By Rachel Forshee
What happens when children with autism become adults with autism? Here in New York State, there are a number of notable programs that seek to answer that question.
Kim Kitchens, manager of Wawa, an organic food store in Hamilton, New York, has worked with Eden Autism Services that provides work for dozens of adults diagnosed with autism for 25 years.
“They do a fantastic job for us,” Kitchens. “They’re very happy to be here”
The number of people diagnosed with autism has become alarming. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had found the incidence of 8-year-olds born in 1996 with ASDs is 1 in 100. The agency’s last two studies of children born in 1992 and 1994 put the chance at 1 in 150. Most recently, a published study took parents by storm when it claimed that autism affects 1 in 94 children.
A state-commissioned report due out this month is starting to tackle issues associated with these figures.
Among those is the need to create job opportunities for autistic students who age-out of state-funded educational programs at the age of 21, experts say.
“Right now, the economy is the biggest problem. All people are struggling to find work, and we face that, too,” said Roni Kantor, a state Department of Human Services employee who helps coordinate employment services for disabled people.
Three years ago, the parent of an autistic man brainstormed with Rutgers’ Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center for the Disabled to create Men with Mops, a company that hires part-time autistic workers exclusively. The company now has about 80 customers and is manned by 23 autistic men with mostly severe disabilities. It pays them minimum wage to mop floors and mow lawns.
While this is one of very many programs, experts suggest that adults with autism may be helped by several different programs. At the high school level, it’s important to begin with vocational or technical training for people with autism. Regional and community agencies can also help people bridge the gap from school to employment.
“People with autism spectrum disorders are often very prompt, punctual, determined, mistakes or errors, and can make great editors,” said company co-director Christopher Manente.