With the dramatic rise of autism in the United States, many young adults are "aging out" of the systems, such as Social Security, that have financially supported them since their autism diagnoses. And when you add in the fact that 85 percent of people on the autistic spectrum are unemployed, parents are left with huge expenses and the fear of wondering who will be there for their adult children after they're gone. Since I have more than one autistic child, I'm consumed by an intense, all-consuming fear.
Thankfully, some organizations have started preparing autistic children for the working world. AutismSpeaks and the U.S. Department of Labor have extensive resources to help autistic people find jobs, and Launch Academy in Sugarland, Texas, says it's "a place where teens with autism literally rehearse full-time for the real life to come." Richard Kelly, co-founder of Launch Academy, says his program is equal parts academic, behavioral and vocational.
Some businesses—computer companies, in particular—have been noticing the benefit of hiring people on the spectrum. They realize autistic people often have the special skills that they need. Specialisterne USA helps prepare and match up autistic people with IT jobs. But if your child doesn't fit in the IT world, try visiting an occupational therapist to help find a more suitable career.
If you'd like to try working with your child at home, most kids on the spectrum have a favorite hobby or thing they like to do, try building a skill set that complements that interest. For example, one of my autistic sons is obsessed with YouTube. When we got him a video recorder, he was so excited. As he ages, we hope to teach him editing and other related skills. It's very unlikely that he will work independently as an adult, but the skills could lead to working with others.
You can also try developing social stories to teach your child skill sets. Social stories are considered one of the best teaching methods for children with autism. They feature photos, text or taped speech that lead children step-by-step through specific tasks, social skills, coping techniques or preparation for certain situations, like a trip to the dentist. Several websites have pre-made social stories or you can develop your own geared toward job skills.
As with everything else in our high-tech world, apps are being created to help autistic kids prepare for the working world. One such app was created by an instructional therapist who's the sister of an autistic young man. It's called MagnusCards, and it provides a library of skill-building cards that help your child to learn skills, from making a sandwich to riding the city bus. You can even make your own cards for skills you'd like your child to learn.