The Center for Disease Control (2012) has found that the prevalence rate of autism in the United States is 1 in 68 children. Also, the organization, Autism Speaks (2017), notes that, each year, about 50,000 teenagers in the United States “age-out” of school-based services and must transition to adult-services. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, students transition to adult services at the ages of 22 and 21, respectively, however, the transition age from school-based to adult services varies by state. When individuals with autism transition to adult services, they face several new challenges, such as, finding a job, creating a broader network of support beyond immediate family members (neighbors, co-workers, support staff, etc.), and participating and engaging in community activities. By considering an ecological approach, described by Nelson and Prilleltensky (2010), we can begin to consider ways in which communities can support the participation and engagement of individuals with autism as adult members of their communities.
Interdependence: At the micro level, relationships between individuals with autism and their family members must be considered. For most families, the transition from school-based to adult services can be daunting, and this causes stress as parents decide how their adult with autism will spend their time during the day. At the meso level, adults with autism begin to seek support and relationships from members of their community, such as neighbors or co-workers. At this stage, building a support network is crucial as individuals with autism begin to acquire jobs and/or seek alternate
living arrangements in the community. At the macro level, individuals with autism may seek out opportunities within the community, such as volunteer opportunities provided by day programs, community clubs, or town meetings. Communities may consider providing extra supports at the meso and macro levels to ensure individuals with autism are able to expand their support networks and be active members in their communities.
Cycling of Resources: Although it may seem that individuals with autism receive a significant amount of resources from adult-service programs (day-care, residential care, transportation, clubs, activities, financial resources, etc.), it is also important to consider the ways in which these individuals contribute to their communities. For example, individuals with autism are employed in several different settings, and they also work as volunteers as part of job training programs and adult day programs. In many cases, these individuals find niches within their communities and work in specialized roles at different work sites. Individuals with autism definitely receive resources and support from community programs, however, these resources can be better modified to enable these individuals to work within the community and become contributing members to the community’s economy.
Adaptation: As mentioned previously, the transition from school-based to adult services for individuals with autism can be very challenging for families, and also, for communities. Individuals with autism must adapt to new schedules, working vs. learning environments, and the limited services available to them as adults. On the other hand, communities must adapt to provide inclusive environments in work and community settings. When communities make a commitment to inclusion, they are supporting the engagement and integration of individuals with autism into community settings and activities.
Succession: A few decades ago, “autism” was an uncommon diagnosis, and many people did not know about autism or how to work with people with autism. In many cases, individuals with autism were institutionalized. Today, however, knowledge about this disorder has become more accessible and communities are better equipped to provide supports for individuals with autism. Instead of casting these individuals aside, communities can work towards providing job opportunities and support community engagement so that these individuals can become active and contributing members of society.
Over the past few decades, the outcome for individuals with autism has become more optimistic, and they play more active roles in their communities due to supports that are in place such as adult service programs, community programs, and employment opportunities. Although progress has been made in providing more resources to individuals with autism, communities can consider an ecological approach to furthering the integration of individuals with autism in communities (Nelson and Prilleltensky, 2010).
Autism Speaks. (2017). What is autism. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/whatautism
CDC, Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring network. (2016). [Graph illustrating the prevalence of autism in the United States between 2000 and 2012]. Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2012. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
Nelson, G., & Prilleltensky, I. (Eds.). (2010). Community psychology in pursuit of liberation and well-being. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.