Dealing with expected wave of young adults with autism

Wednesday, April 15, 2015
VIDEO: Dealing with expected wave of young adults with autism
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Twenty thousand will pass from child to adult in Pennsylvania by the year 2020.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- For the past 10 to 15 years, America has faced a challenge with the growing number of children diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum.

Now the country faces a new challenge, some say a crisis, as these children move into adolescence and young adulthood.

We met one of them, Andrew Taylor, a junior at Temple University, last week.

Like many college students, Andrew has changed his major a few times, has a love-hate relationship with math, and loves fantasy novels.

"I also like suspense novels, thrilling novels, stuff that makes me think I want to know what's going to happen next," he says.

Andrew also represents a new type of college student, one dealing with autism, in his case, Asperger's syndrome.

The Philadelphia Autism's Project's recent report estimates that in Pennsylvania alone, 20-thousand autistic children will become adults by 2020.

While there's a strong network of services for YOUNG children, support for older teens and young adults is still in the works.

"There are still such huge gaps in services, and what is needed and what's available, we still don't know," says Gail Stein of the Center for Autism Research at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"Once the school bus stops coming, there's no near-direct road map, roadway for information." says Stein.

"You have to find what you need, what suits your child's need," she added.

Stein and Ben Yerys of C.A.R. say the wide variations in function present a major challenge.

"Two people may look like they're similar," says Stein. "But their needs may be completely divergent."

But regardless whether the young person is college material or headed directly to work, there is one major need -

"Young adults with autism are not getting enough life skills training," says Yerys.

Like grocery-shopping, managing finances, driving, registering to vote - and taking care of their health.

"There are many adults with autism not getting care, and suffering very bad outcomes from very treatable medical problems, because they just didn't recognize the symptoms," says Yerys.

Andrew says he struggled with the transition from high school to college.

He didn't need to study much in high school, but did when he got to college, and he also realized he didn't know how to manage time well.

For him, two years at community college was a big help.

"Community college helped me narrow my focus and teach me some study habits," he says, adding, "One of the big things I learned is how to ask for help."

He got advice on how to schedule classes, and make study groups.

Through those helps, Andrew found the structure he needed.

And he discovered his love of psychology, research, and statistics.

"I'm looking at careers in data analysis. I'd really like to collaborate on a research project.

He is also helping others with autism navigate life.

"Just last month, I was on a panel discussion about the transition from high school to college for children on the autism spectrum," he says proudly.

Later this year, CHOP plans sessions so parents can talk about the major issues they see.

And the Autism Project has identified 139 initiatives to develop.

It's all the beginning of a new chapter on autism.