Autistic Adults Lack Higher Learning, Jobs [AUDIO]
According to a study released this week in Pediatrics, one in three autistic young adults have no schooling or paid job experience nearly seven years after graduating high school. That is an alarming statistic to autism experts and awareness advocates in New Jersey, the state with the second-highest rate of autism in the nation.
An estimated 68,000 adults with autism live in the Garden State; that number is expected to grow substantially over the next few years. Nationwide, roughly half a million autistic kids will reach adulthood in the next decade.
Linda Meyer, Executive Director of Autism New Jersey, said autistic individuals have had difficulty obtaining employment due to problems that start "very early in life."
"The transition to the world of adult eligibility actually begins in preschool," Meyer explained.
She said New Jersey parents need to encourage schools to teach the skills necessary for adults with autism to live successful, independent lives. Also, she suggested schools look back at what they are teaching, how they are teaching and who is teaching individuals with autism. Those factors should be adjusted so autistic individuals can be independent adults after age 21.
Still, Meyer said individuals with autism have a number of challenges that could prevent them from being employed successfully. Conversely, Autism New Jersey's Barbara Wells said individuals with autism also have many strengths that can be applied in the workplace.
"One of the symptoms is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder," Wells said. "Sometimes that can really play as a strength in employment - always being on time, never taking a sick day."
Wells' son Ian, 21, is autistic. With one year of high school left, he has interned at Walgreens and a fastener factory. Wells and her son don't yet know if he will be gainfully employed following graduation. Wells said no job opportunities for Ian would not only be rough for him, but for the whole family.
"If Ian is unemployed, I'm unemployed because I need someone to be with 24 hours a day," Wells explained.
Employers could also be more prepared to work with autistic adults, according to Meyer.
She continued, "One of the things that need to do is establish a comprehensive training program designed to prepare the professionals who are going to work with out adults with autism."
Last month, Governor Chris Christie announced that New Jersey will become the 14th state to adopt an Employment First initiative, aimed at proactively promoting competitive employment for people with any type of disability.
"Everyone should have the opportunity to be productive, earn a living, and feel a sense of person fulfillment from employment," Christie said.