Currently, one in sixty-eight children are diagnosed on the autistic spectrum. With this, young adults with autism are on coming of age and with it a new generation has to learn how to integrate into larger society outside of their immediate families. Services to children with autism have expanded and are more readily available, but young adults on the spectrum have fewer resources to help them adjust into adulthood. There are a growing number of workshops addressing social skills among young adults, such as UCLA’s Peers Program that cover a broad range of social skills as appropriate conversation skills, trading information to find common interests, phone call and email etiquette, choosing appropriate friends and handling disagreements. However, few of these programs also teach young adults with autism in adopting life skills such as managing school or finding work, living independently from their families, and negotiating finances.
A major area that has failed to accommodate the needs of students on the autistic spectrum is universities. Counseling services and disability services are often made available the attending students but are not necessarily advertised to them to utilize. In addition, universities also have recently taken action against students that have sought out mental health services. Newsweek article recently reported that while students seeking counseling has jumped from sixteen percent in 2000 to thirty-nine percent in 2012, universities have responded to these students’ mental health needs (particularly those who seek counseling for suicidal ideation related to various mental conditions) by demanding access to health records and waiving patient confidentiality, citing them for violating various regulations or demanding they withdraw. These students are seen as behavioral liabilities by universities and cite their stability as “self-harm” and a threat to other students via residential contracts and if they seek services proves that they are not fit to attend university. We hope that these incidents of expelling students who have mental needs will begin to be alleviated by instituting workshops at universities and community colleges for students on the autistic spectrum to enroll in to help them adjust to the demands of higher education and social integration.
For those young adults on the spectrum not aiming to pursue higher education, the challenges of independent living are greater. Whether or not they receive assistance for disability services, it is incredibly challenging for those with autism to look and engage in resources that can help find them employment or housing, and very little exists on how to help them engage with the resources in a manner that benefits them most and does not overwhelm them.
In social work, we value every individual to have the potential to contribute to the world in a positive way and work to help the disenfranchised to recognize and act on that potential. People with autism have remarkable strengths in being able to think creatively and find unique solutions to great issues, such as Temple Grandin’s contributions to make the livestock industry more humane to cows or Albert Einstein redefining physics with the theory of relativity. If social workers are meant to support human potential wherever it exists, then we must empower young adults on the autistic spectrum to adjust to the challenges of adulthood and thus propel them into productive and happy lives. And perhaps in enabling people with autism to have successful lives, the world in turn will value their contributions to making it a better place.
Baker, K. J. M. (2014) How colleges flunk mental health. Newsweek. Retrieved from: http://mag.newsweek.com/2014/02/07/colleges-flunk-mental-health.html
Falco, M. (2014) Autism rates now 1 in 68 U.S. children: CDC. CNN. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/27/health/cdc-autism/index.html?hpt=hp_t2
PEERS for young adults. (2014, February 3) Retrieved from: http://www.se”