According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. While in school, autistic children are eligible for many different kinds of supports. From early elementary school into high school, their team advocates to make sure they receive therapies, services, and whatever else they need to navigate the educational world. What many do not realize is that, at 21, you age out of the school system.
With the increasing number of autistic students in schools across the country, many families are finding themselves with children who are almost 21 and limited services to help their transition. After years of receiving services from schools, many families are unsure of how to help their adult children. Students about to leave high school need more attention with services to help them successfully make this transition. What many families have found is that if there are any programs, they are often filled to capacity and not taking new people.
Some school districts are trying to begin this process earlier. They start to look at the bigger picture for students on the autism spectrum when they are in middle school. The problem is that, even with planning, you do not know how things will end up and if continued supports will be available for students once they leave the school system. According to research from Drexel University, 26% of young adults do not receive support. In addition to this, they found that 60% of these individuals also had two or more mental health concerns that also needed to be treated. Families need to know where to turn for this continued support when their children turn 21.
At least once a year, families should meet with school professionals to talk about long term goals and plans. This should not be to focus on the current or next academic year. It needs to be a bigger picture for the child. Gather information to share about community outreach. Some families may not be aware of autism groups that exist and could benefit. Brain storm on what path the child may be heading toward when completing or aging out of high school. How much support will the child need when officially an adult? Do they know of employers that may be better for adults with special needs? The more information and planning ahead of graduation or turning 21, the smoother the transition can be with minimal surprises happening in the end.