I have written a number of blogs on the challenges of living with autism as an adult, so I looked forward to seeing the PBS NewsHour special which aired last night: “Giving adults with autism the skills to build independent lives.” (Watch it here) The program focused on the First Place Transition Academy in Phoenix, AZ. This is a pilot program, serving 9 men with autism, which promotes independent living through teaching the skill sets needed to be successful. There’s also a focus on employment. Lessons include: how to ride the bus (travel training), where to find utensils in the kitchen, budgeting, how dress appropriately for work… etc. Although as the reporter said these skills may seem “mundane,” they are paramount to independent living.
These 9 men also live together, which offers them a chance to build friendships and as a result, function as a community. Watching the video, I thought, “Wow. This is truly incredible. Why aren’t there more of these initiatives across the country?” As I researched more on Transition First, I found the answer: to live in one of these apartments costs a staggering $3500 a month – and that’s just for the tuition for the training program. To rent the apartment can cost anywhere between $2900 and $3200 a month.
Sadly, I feel – as I’m sure most of you reading this will – that those figures are unreachable for most families. What wasn’t clear was does the state of Arizona provide any financial support for families? Certainly, if programs like this are to become viable and available across our nation, there needs to be increased funding available for adults living with autism. And of course, that begins with raising awareness that autism is a lifelong disability. By the year 2030, half a million individuals will turn 18 each year. Those numbers are astounding; our challenge is not only to be able to provide for them but to prepare for them.
What can each of us do to respond to this challenge? I’d be interested in your thoughts!