The Conversation No One Is Having When It Comes to Kids and Autism

What Happens When Kids with Autism Grow Up: Mother using laptop while sitting with happy autistic son in living room at home
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When it comes to topics related to autism, the focus is almost always on kids. As the mother of an 11-year-old girl with autism, I know how easy it can be to deep dive into topics such as IEPs (individualized education program), playdates, fine motor skills, sensory issues and even things like toilet training and puberty. But what no one talks about is that someday, sooner than we think, our kids with autism will become adults with autism, and from there the level of interest and support takes a dramatic plunge.

According to Autism Speaks, studies show that 50 to 75 percent of the roughly 5.6 million autistic adults in the U.S. are underemployed or unemployed and nearly half of 25 year olds with autism have never held a paying job. Those are sad statistics for our kiddos that we put so much hope and work into when they are young.

While we don’t know what the future holds for our daughter in terms of her education and possible career, I do know that it’s imperative that as a society we start to look at people with autism as assets. But with all the talk and training on diversity and inclusion, those with developmental disabilities including autism are left out of the conversation. While companies put an inordinate amount of focus on the labels of bathrooms and the pronouns in an email signature, more than 60 percent of young adults with autism are neither working or pursuing education or training post-high school in the U.S.

The thought of E sitting at home all day when she graduates high school or being shuttled to a day program to complete busywork is not OK! Our public schools need to step up their efforts when it comes to pre-college readiness for our kids and also put the focus on vocational training as early as middle school. The result of not doing this will be a generation of children who were shuttled to endless therapy sessions doing…nothing.

Education and employment give all people (including those with autism) meaning to their days, opportunities for socialization and purpose in this world. Colleges and companies should court the autistic population, not out of charity or pity, but because of the skills they can bring to the table.

Workers with autism can boost company morale and teach coworkers empathy. They are often hard workers who don’t jump ship. The repetitive nature of certain jobs works well for many. Others can see details in things that would be overlooked by their neurotypical peers. They can learn and memorize information quickly and their sometimes literal or logical interpretations of situations can be a huge positive.

Many families have gone so far as top open businesses for their adult offspring to work at, like Cherri Sanes and her husband Scott, who opened ExtraSpecialTeas in Great Barrington, MA so that her son, Jache, on the autism spectrum, would have an inclusive place to work. The parents who do things like this are absolutely incredible. But my hope is that I don’t have to open a coffeeshop so that E can have a place to work one day. It’s my mission that people with autism be recognized for their skills, talents and contributions—and that we can live in a world that’s truly inclusive.

17 Things Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum Want You to Know

Freelance PureWow Editor

Ronnie Koenig is a writer with 20+ years’ experience who got her start at Playgirl and went on to write for Cosmo, Redbook, The New York Times, The Atlantic and many others. She’s...