Can Adults with Autism Live Independent Lives?
The majority of adults with autism need lifelong training, ongoing
supervision, and reinforcement of skills. The public schools'
responsibility for providing these services ends when the person
is past school age. As the child becomes a young adult, the family
is faced with the challenge of creating a home-based plan or selecting
a program or facility that can offer such services.
In some cases, adults with autism can continue to live at home, provided
someone is there to supervise at all times. A variety of residential
facilities also provide round-the-clock care. Unlike many of the institutions
years ago, today's facilities view residents as people with human needs,
and offer opportunities for recreation and simple, but meaningful work.
Still, some facilities are isolated from the community, separating people
with autism from the rest of the world.
Today, a few cities are exploring new ways to help people with autism
hold meaningful jobs and live and work within the wider community. Innovative,
supportive programs enable adults with autism to live and work in mainstream
society, rather than in a segregated environment.
By teaching and reinforcing good work skills and positive social behaviors,
such programs help people live up to their potential. Work is meaningful
and based on each person's strengths and abilities. For example, people
with autism with good hand-eye coordination who do complex, repetitive
actions are often especially good at assembly and manufacturing tasks.
A worker with a low IQ and few language skills might be trained to work
in a restaurant sorting silverware and folding napkins. Adults with
higher-level skills have been trained to assemble electronic equipment
or do office work.
Based on their skills and interests, participants in such programs
fill positions in printing, retail, clerical, manufacturing, and other
companies. Once they are carefully trained in a task, they are put to
work alongside the regular staff. Like other employees, they are paid
for their labor, receive employee benefits, and are included in staff
events like company picnics and retirement parties. Companies that hire
people through such programs find that these workers make loyal, reliable
employees. Employers find that the autistic behaviors, limited social
skills, and even occasional tantrums or aggression, do not greatly affect
the worker's ability to work efficiently or complete tasks.
Like any other worker, program participants live in houses and apartments
within the community. Under the direction of a residence coach, each
resident shares as much as possible in tasks like meal-planning, shopping,
cooking, and cleanup. For recreation, they go to movies, have picnics,
and eat in restaurants. As they are ready, they are taught skills that
make them more personally independent. Some take pride in having learned
to take a bus on their own, or handling money they've earned themselves.
Job and residence coaches, who serve as a link between the program participants
and the community, are the key to such programs. There may be as few
as two adults with autism assigned to each coach. The job coach demonstrates
the steps of a job to the worker, observes behavior, and regularly acknowledges
good performance. The job coach also serves as a bridge between the
workers with autism and their co-workers. For example, the coach steps
in if a worker loses self-control or presents any problems on the job.
The coach also provides training in specific social skills, such as
waving or saying hello to fellow workers. At home, the residence coach
reinforces social and self-help behaviors, and finds ways to help people
manage their time and responsibilities.
At present, about a third of all people with autism can live and work
in the community with some degree of independence. As scientific research
points the way to more effective therapies and as communities establish
programs that provide proper support, expectations are that this number
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