Many adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have contacted me with similar stories—they have had various sorts of therapies (i.e., ABA, OT, Speech) until the age of 22, which is when funding for most of these services ends. At the age of 22, right when they are getting ready to transition into adulthood and face some of the most daunting experiences of their lives, their support system is taken away from them.
Some have completed high school, while others have a college degree, yet they are not able to get a job. Some feel that they blew it during the interview phase, while others gained employment only to lose it a few months later. Why is this such a common experience for adults on the spectrum?
With individuals on the spectrum working so incredibly hard to accommodate to the demands of a work environment, we must ask ourselves, what are we doing to make this transition easier for them?
If going through employment workshops, college classes, and years of therapies does not help people with ASD get a job, perhaps we as a society need to examine the role we play in hindering these talented individuals in achieving success. Sure, it is beneficial and necessary to provide therapy and various services that increase a person’s safety and well-being, but is it really fair to ask so many people to modify their social behavior just because it is different than our own? If a job candidate meets every requirement for a potential job and can complete that job better than any other candidate, but he doesn’t make eye contact with you, does that mean that he doesn’t deserve a job at your company?
When it comes to assessing the needs of these individuals, why don’t we spend more time and attention directly asking them what how we can help or what we can do to better support them? It is disheartening to hear people say things like “ABA should fix all of her issues by the time she graduates,” or “well I don’t want to be friends with him because it made me uncomfortable that he spent half an hour talking about cars” or “she was being so disruptive in class, she kept blowing her nose, she needs a behavior interventionist in class with her!” Perhaps we are the ones who have attitudes that need to be “fixed,” and we are the ones who need to examine our negative reactions to things that are actually quite trivial. Is a student blowing her nose really that “disruptive” or is it maybe just a little bit annoying and something we can deal with by simply asking the student to step outside to blow her nose?
Being an adult is hard work, and rather than putting an extra burden of responsibility on people with ASD, it’s time we reflect on our own behavior and reactions. Instead of viewing a disorder or disability as something to be “cured” or “fixed,” we should see it as something to be understood and accepted. I am reminded of the quote, “In 1919 one Deaf man advised other Deaf people, “By and by maybe society will recognize the fact that deafness is neither a crime nor a mental defect which separates those so handicapped from the rest
of mankind. But society is a good deal self-contained and probably we will have to put up with the snub until by gradual education society becomes enlightened.” –Bide the Time, 1919
It is our responsibility to create a socially inclusive environment across all domains of life for these talented and deserving individuals. As therapists, rather than solely focusing on working with people with ASD, we need to work hard in our communities to increase the level of acceptance and support for people of all backgrounds and differences.
If you enjoyed the blog post above, stay tuned for more information on the book we are working on: Spectrum Success: Being an Adult is Hard!