Throughout the month of April organizations and individuals around the world recognize Autism Awareness Month with a myriad of activities. To many, this may seem like nothing more than a marketing ploy to get more funding (and the need for services far outstrips the available resources). But there is a more important reason for promoting awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to the public – awareness of ASD can help us all do a better job of recognizing the unique qualities and strengths of those with ASD. The inability of peers, interviewers, and employers to do this is perhaps the greatest barrier to increased independence and quality of life in adulthood. This week we look at some research and programs that look at this barrier.
ASD is defined as a spectrum disorder, which means the level of challenges and need for supports varies from individuals with significant challenges who need a high level of supports to those with mild challenges requiring less supports. This means that high school students with ASD will have a wide range of transition plans. Some will go on to higher education, some to career training, and some directly into the workforce. Still others may transition into structured day or residential programs. And with the appropriate level of planning and support, every person with ASD can have a successful transition. A feature in Rutgers Today, a publication of Rutgers University, highlights two Rutgers students with ASD who will graduate with their Bachelor’s degrees on May 18. It describes some of their hopes and fears, challenges and successes.
Previous articles in our blog have discussed transitions and independence, and how employers can benefit by matching individuals’ strengths with specific job demands. Research and news articles frequently talk about national and international employers’ programs for those with ASD and other disabilities. Too often this causes many of us to overlook the importance of local and regional employers. But the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga MoSAIC program works with local employers to help them recognize and reap the benefits available to them when they can focus on the abilities of students with ASD rather than their challenges. This includes giving students individual assistance in preparing for interviews as well as working with local employers to develop paid internships that can evolve into post-graduation employment.
TAP and its partners recognize the importance of transition planning. All partners are actively engaged with local Transition Planning Committees, and many are also working with other local groups and agencies to insure that housing and employment opportunities for adults with ASD are available in their communities. TAP’s four University Partners provide a variety of supports and services for students and other young adults, including mentoring, support and social programs in addition to the programs offered by the different disability services offices at each university. TAP Collaborative Partner Have Dreams offers several different vocational and transition programs for young adults with ASD. TAP Partners CTF Illinois, Kreider Services, Trinity Services, and The Hope Institute all have a number of programs to help individuals with ASD and other disabilities achieve success and an improved quality of life in adulthood.
All the individuals in these programs, both staff and participants, are highly committed to achieving success. But they are not the only ones who have an important role here – the support and commitment of businesses and the public are critical. This is why we have Autism Awareness Month. April is over, but children with ASD become adults with ASD every day. Give them a chance to demonstrate their abilities – you are likely to be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
Russell J. Bonanno, M.Ed.
TAP Program Manager