Dealing with autism in adults

February 19, 2009 8:49:48 PM PST
About one in every 150 kids are now diagnosed with autism. They'll be eligible for special school-based services but what happens when they graduate from school...the services for thousands of them start to dwindle. Most autistic adults live with their family or are in an institution. But we're starting to see more programs to help autistic adults reach their full potential and for some that could mean having a job and even living on their own.Tony DeMarco,21, of Upland, Pennsylvania, is learning how to wash trays and stock utensils. It's part of the job training at Devereux's Community Adult Autism Partnership Program, or CAAPP, in West Chester.

Tony has Asperger syndrome, a mild form of autism, and his mother Karen said after he graduated from an alternative high school she wasn't sure what to d

"I was a little nervous like what am I going to do... I just figured he would stay with me forever," she said.

It's a problem for many parents of autistic kids. While there's services for young kids, adults with autism have few options.

But at Devereux, CAAPP picks up where some alternative schools leave off. The goal is to help autistic adults live as independently as possible.

"We're learning how to cook, planning meals, eating healthy, we're learning how to compare prices," Tony explained.

He is also making new friends such as Justin Cheng.

Betsy Swope, the program director, said CAAPP serves adults with mild to moderate autism. Depending on their potential, the students are taught everything from social skills at home and work, to making doctors appointments, to riding the bus.

"A lot of the people on our program have the ability and the capability to do these skills, they just need extra help and intensive teaching to learn them," Swope said.

Megan Smetona, 22, is proof of that. She attended a similar program through the Bancroft Neurohealth School in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Now she works part-time at CVS.

"Megan gets pride in her work, earning a paycheck, meeting other people out in the community," Megan's job coach Debbie Ford said. Megan said, "I really feel happy and calming (while at work.)"

But while Megan is succeeding and Tony is on his way to joining her, many others will be left out. CAAPP is still in the early phases and right now there's a limited number of spots. Funding these programs is also a problem. Swope said their goal is to expand their program or help others copy it.

"We're just seeing more and more children come into the system and we have to plan for them in the future, if we don't plan for them ... 20 years from now we're going to have a serious societal problem," she said.

For Tony, he's hoping to get a job like Meghan has and in the future, live on his own.

"I would like him to do something fun for a living, you know whatever he wants. I want him to be happy," she said.

For more information about CAAPP or other services offered at Devereux, call 610-873-4930.

For more information about Bancroft Neurohealth, visit: www.Bancroft.org

WEB EXTRA: To hear more about the challenges some parents of autistic adults face, watch our candid interview with another local family.

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