Thursday, July 15, 2010

Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism

This Thursday, I attended a briefing organized by Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism (AFAA) which focused on ensuring adults autism live meaningful lives. I believe there is less focus on the needs of adults with autism today because so much media attention surrounding the “autism crisis” focuses on diagnosing autism & early intervention. While both issues are certainly important they focus almost entirely on children. In general, there is a lack of focus on the needs of adults with disabilities in our society in part because our media largely focuses on children with disabilities only. These children are often portrayed in the media as “saints” to be admired for their “innocence”, while adults with disabilities are “grotesque” figures to be shunned. Today, programs to assist adults with disabilities are significantly less funded than those for children & contain less flexibility in use of funds. I believe this is largely due to such stigmatization of adults with disabilities, displaying how large an obstacle it serves to prevent these gaps from being filled. When there is reference to an “autism crisis”, I respond that the only “crisis” surrounding autism is the undeniable lack of support services which allow for our full inclusion in society. We do not “suffer” from autism for the sole reason that we are autistic, but what many of us really suffer from is unjust stigmatization, isolation & exclusion from viable educational & employment opportunities.

The fact that 90% of people with autism are unemployed & 80% are still living at home is a direct result of the real crisis at hand. The crisis of a lack of options in independent living as well as in variety. I learned at the AFAA briefing that because location of independent living facilities & their services are inseparable, someone must move out if they find the services no longer meet their person-centered needs. We need to ensure people with autism engage in meaningful vocational training that prepares them to enter the workforce while they are still attending high school, have access to services such as job counseling that allow them to find & retain jobs. In addition, employers must not only be exposed to the positives of hiring autistic people (Walgreens for one has made great strides in hiring people with disabilities with success!) but be trained to full understand the strengths & challenges which autistic people face. Lastly, in order to ensure independent & meaningful living for people with autism, we must not only including viable housing & employment options, but also ensure an ability to engage in community life/social activities

Yet this is certainly all easier said than done. And not just because of the need to increase funding, commitment & coordination between both public & private sectors. But also because there is too large a focus on “curing” those of us with autism & other disabilities away. With current stigma & negative viewpoints around disability- especially adults with disabilities- society neglects the fact that so many of us ARE able to live meaningful lives today. When we focus on eugenics & institutionalization as the only options in the midst of this “crisis”, important issues such as independent housing & meaningful employment are virtually ignored.

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