Every single day, someone who is autistic reaches adulthood. As they turn 18 years of age, their futures remain in doubt. Will they be able to cope in an increasingly hostile world, outside the safety and protection of both school and parental care?
The question is a difficult one to answer. Some do cope incredibly well, not only surviving but excelling. Others do not and sadly this is the majority. With an unemployment rate exceeding 84 percent for autistic citizens, finding meaningful work with a livable wage is a significant challenge.
Some employers believe that autistic employees are only good enough to perform menial labor, such as stacking products on store shelves. Others are more enlightened and hire autistic citizens to create computer programming, practice law or medicine, and use their skills in a myriad of professions. Most of those successful employees owe their success to the adaptability of the employer.
First, let’s start with the family. Smart parents create special needs trusts for their child early in the child’s life, soon after an autism diagnosis. This ensures the child will have some measure of security and survivability even if employment is not an option. That’s important, so if your child has been recently diagnosed, talk to a financial planner. Make sure to get references and check their track records for special needs trusts.
Next, as the child grows, identify any unique talents which may have a marketability in the workforce. Some talents have no value to companies. Others do. For example, one young man has an ability to communicate in tones generated by his telephone’s alpha-numeric keypad. That same individual has an uncanny memory for content he’s read or seen. After reading a book, he can recite it, chapter and verse years after reading the material. This proved to be a marketable skill, but the individual’s comorbid conditions disabled him.
The workplace itself is a factor. One young man in California couldn’t cope with the relaxed work environment of all the employers in Silicon Valley where he successfully found work. He needed a regimented, structured environment. He ended up (with our help, by the way) in the US Military, and now uses his talent with code and languages in the service of military intelligence.
In this technological world, autism must be a part of the ever advancing systems that make up our functioning society. One autistic young woman was an incredible diagnostician for computer code. She could literally see results of coding in her mind. She became a critical member of the programming team for a financial regulator and today earns a high six-figure salary.
Not everyone on the spectrum has incredible talents. Some have average skills and find it difficult to cope with complex tasks. This is one reason special needs trusts can be helpful. The average skill worker may not fare well financially when average neurotypicals are having difficulty making ends meet. Having the protective reserve of a trust helps, but government help may be necessary.
Supplemental Security Income may be the solution. Based on the diagnosis, evaluation of occupational therapists and medical practitioners, a social security disability lawyer should be consulted. It is not unheard of for parents to apply for these benefits while the child is still in elementary school. In fact, this is probably the wisest move. Social Security does allow a child to obtain benefits under their parent’s contributions. Called “adult-child” benefits, you should ask your specialist attorney about this, and particularly find out if they’re experienced with this unusual option.
Some children display unique talents early in life. Others show special skills in their teens. Autism has no limitations, so it is not unusual for a person on the spectrum to discover a marketable talent in later years. Never stop exploring. Just remember, the kids do grow up, and it is important to protect, guide, and shield them, but mostly to educate.