The statistics are startling, the Centers for Disease Control shows one in 150 children born today will be diagnosed with autism. And many of those children will soon be adults, who must find their own way in this world. So what happens to this growing population of autistic people as they reach adulthood?
Sarah Platt continues her special series "Autism: Understanding the Puzzle."
According to the Autism Society of America, more than 600-thousand adults are living with autism. That number is expected to skyrocket as autism diagnoses among children continue to go up.
While many high functioning autistic adults, especially those with Asperger's Syndrome, are able to lead independent lives, those with more severe symptoms are dependent on others. Many simply can't live alone or support themselves. This is a very real situation and concern for families who have someone with autism.
38-year-old Paul Warren has been hard at work. “Open it up, put it down, take one of these,” says Paul.
He just celebrated ten years with Vytech. The Granger company makes plastics for windows and doors in the RV and home building industry. “I hear you're a real hard worker, that's what your boss says,” asks reporter Sarah Platt.
Like many people with autism, Paul repeats words when someone speaks to him. But his repetitiveness actually comes in handy on the job, as he makes dozens of cardboard spools each day.
Paul still lives at home with his parents, Bob and Mollie, who are both in their 70's. Paul's father says his son helps out a lot around the house. “He's the one that really provides for us. He's a real provider,” says Bob Warren.
The Warren's acknowledge that most people their age have an empty nest by now, but they say Paul's presence is no strain. “That's probably kept me very young. A lot of people sleep in and just kind of waste away. But because he's so involved with Special Olympics, we've got a real daily routine that we go through with him, taking him to work and picking him up from work,” adds Warren.
“He keeps us going,” adds Paul’s mother Mollie.
“There are many adults with developmental disabilities that are still living with their parents who are in their parents, even people in their 80's or 90's,” says Dan Ryan, Director of the Regional Autism Center.
Unlike autistic children today, the same opportunities for therapy simply weren't around when Paul was a child and teen. “I had never been around anybody with autism before, so I didn't have any idea,” says Mollie.
And not every autistic adult is as fortunate as Paul. Many don't have family to help care for them or have a chance to get a job. Group homes and residential facilities can be rare and expensive. Wait lists for Medicaid funding for autistic people are as long as ten years. Experts say lawmakers simply didn't anticipate this many people with autism, numbers that will only continue to rise. “In fact, 80% of people with an autism diagnosis are 18 and under, will be entering the adult world soon, and will be needing a lot of support in terms of residential and job training and the whole gamut,” says Ryan.
Ryan says the legislature is now taking steps to get more funding for autistic adults, including job training and supervised housing. Adults currently living with elderly parents are among those on the priority list.
Meantime, the Warrens are not only dealing with Paul's autism. Mollie has recently shown some symptoms of Alzheimers. “It's just one of the things you have to do, if you love a person, or people,” says Bob Warren.
Paul's parents tell us his sister will care for him when they no longer can. Because Paul has a full-time job, the Warren's aren't interested in getting Medicaid assistance right now. They say they’d rather save the aid for someone else that doesn’t have family to care for them or a steady job, like their son Paul.
As for other families, with children in the early years of autism, parents like Laura Cichoracki are hoping more time and money can be invested in schools now, to help avoid costs for care in the future. “Eighteen years of investing in their future is going to pay off big time. It's the difference between people who are going to be functional adults and people who are going to need group homes, nursing homes, one on one care, it's absolutely critical,” says Cichoracki.
The Cichoracki, Smous, and Warren families are all snapshots of what life is like with someone on the autism spectrum. They're hoping greater awareness will breed more acceptance of this often puzzling world. “Be more acceptant of people with different personalities, in a way, that's what is comes down to,” says Angie Smous, mother of three children who are on the autism spectrum.
“Being different shouldn't be threatening to other people, it should be something that is celebrated,” says Ryan.