Persons, places and things: Adults with autism need employment

Barb Arland-Fye

I heard one of God’s whispers the other day while reading a copy of America magazine. A day or so before, I’d received a call that my son Colin’s volunteer assignment didn’t seem to be a good match for him. Either the agency didn’t have enough things for him to do, or he became agitated performing a task that didn’t appeal to him.
Could we think of any other volunteer options that might fit his needs?
As I pondered the options, flipping through America, I came across an article that riveted my attention: “Autism Crisis — Study Suggests More Services Needed for Young Adults.”
The article addressed the looming challenges of providing jobs and other post-high school opportunities for individuals with autism who have or soon will “age” out of the school system.
With one in 88 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and one in 54 boys “how well is U.S. society preparing for autism’s coming of age?” (America, June 4-11, 2012)
The article cited a study funded by the Organization for Autism Research, Autism Speaks and the National Institute for Mental Health which found that “young adults with autism spectrum disorder are far less likely to continue their education or find a job after high school compared with young adults with other disabilities.”
Only 55 percent with ASD were employed during the first six years after high school, the report says, and that certainly holds true for my 25-year-old son. He was employed at two different restaurants in the first two years after high school, but lost those jobs when the businesses closed. He became so distraught after the second job loss that I thought we would have to have him hospitalized.
Subsequent job opportunities failed because Colin apparently needed more one-on-one support for a longer period of time than practical from a funding standpoint.
Negotiating the transition to adulthood is a work in progress, as evidenced by the worn-out memory book from sixth grade that lays open on Colin’s bed in his apartment.
The America article states that about 50,000 youths with autism will turn 18 this year in the United States. That statistic has ramifications for many families across the United States and society as a whole.
“A Place at the Table,” a pastoral reflection of the U.S. bishops issued in 2002, states that Catholic teaching “affirms that all persons, even those on the margins of society, have basic rights: the right to life and to those things that are necessary to the proper development of life including faith and family, work and education, housing and health care.”
People with autism, mental illness, or other mental or physical disabilities simply want to be appreciated, valued and engaged in meaningful work or other activities. As a community of faith, we are called to reach out to one another in solidarity. And to those of us whom much has been given, much is expected.
God’s whisper reassures me that I am not alone in the quest for a meaningful life for my son and others like him.
Barb Arland-Fye

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