Groundbreaking Local Effort to Help Adults With Autism Begins Today

Families of adults with autism and the non profit organizations which provide them with services will meet today to plan the next step in Bexar County's groundbreaking effort to help adults on the autism spectrum make the transition into productive lives, just as people with physical disabilities moved into the workforce in the 1980s and prompted the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

A first-in-the-country study by the Kronkowsky Charitable Foundation revealed that there are 21,600 adults over thirty who suffer from austism living in Bexar County. Of those, more than 86% live at home with a family member as a full time caregiver. The cost of this current situation, in everything from lost income for the autism patient and the caregiver, to the cost of care autistic adults are receiving, to lost taxes, total $730 million a year, a significant amount in the county's economy.

Now, Cara Magrane of the group 'Autism LifelineLinks' says the challenge is to find those individuals, and to come up with a framework to improve their lives, and the lives of their families.

She says if somebody has a physical disability, it is easy to tell, which means it is easy to make accommodations for. With autism, Magrane says the identification is far more challenging.

"With autism, so much of what the disability is is the communication disorders," she said. "Their inability to socialize, challenges in socializing, challenges in communicating."

She says this is why adults on the autism spectrum are frequently all but 'hidden away,' with the responsibility for their care falling on family members.

"This is a population that is also higher risk for depression, higher risk for medical challenges, because they are not necessarily good communicators with their practicioners, or their phobias prevent them from attending traditional physician appointments."

Before the 1960s and 1970s, much like autism adults today, adults with physical disabilities were for the most part separated from society. Many stories are told about how the extent of President Roosevelt's disability was carefully withheld from the public, who didn't think at the time that a person in a wheelchair was capable of having the vigor needed to be President. A change in attitudes about the physically disabled began to change, largely due to TV shows like 'Ironside,' which depicted the physically disabled performing high level tasks. That began a nationwide effort to open doors for the physically disabled, leading to, for example, specially marked parking places, and culminating when George H.W. Bush signed the ADA in 1990, bringing the physically disabled into the full mainstream of the American economy. Now, people in wheelchairs and with other disabilities are full participants in all manner of workplaces, and it seems disturbing to remember there was a time not long ago that people thought that was not possible, or desirable.'

Armed with the Kronkowsky study, local groups like Autism Speaks hope to launch a simialr renaissance of adults with autism. Magrne estimates that at least one third of local asults on the autism spectrum are fully capable, with the needed accommodations, to join their physically disabled counterparts in the work force, improving their quality of life, freeing up the family caregivers, and improving the socialization challenges that so often accompany autism.

She says those efforts are already underway.

"We don't know who they are, we don't know where they are, we don't what their level of functioning is."

The next step in this process, which begins today, is to start answering those questions, and matching the adults with the services they need to begin to take that step toward a fuller, more productive life.

IMAGES: GETTY

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