In mid-May, National Public Radio (NPR) ran this news article: 1 in 3 Autistic Young Adults Lack Jobs, Education. This information is not news to parents who have watched their children with autism grow into adults with autism. However, that doesn’t make it any less unsettling.

The article discusses the results of a study that appeared in Pediatrics, based on data from 2007-08. “One in three young adults with autism have no paid job experience, college or technical schooling nearly seven years after high school graduation, a study finds. That’s a poorer showing than those with other disabilities including those who are mentally disabled, the researchers said.”

This study was done before the recession and unemployment escalated in 2008. So, with the job market still being tough, imagine how dire the situation is for adults with autism.

This news, along with new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicates diagnoses of autism has risen to one in 88 births, is the reason we are building Erik’s Ranch & Retreats in two locations. Something needs to be done.

Now. Not in10 years when more than 500,000 children with autism become adults.

I think if you don’t know someone who has autism, or aren’t a close relative, these statistics don’t seem as urgent. But think about the implications. Without jobs, a half million adults will rely on some government subsidies. As our population ages and the number of older workers retire and turn to social services, an economic crisis could easily result. So, this crisis isn’t just limited to adults with autism and their families. It’s really a global concern that must be addressed.

Addressing the Need

Paul Shattuck, an assistant professor at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work in St. Louis and lead author of the study mentioned in the NPR story, says this: “There is this wave of young children who have been diagnosed with autism who are aging toward adulthood. We’re kind of setting ourselves up for a scary situation if we don’t think about that and how we’re going to help these folks and their families.”

This is where Erik’s Minnesota Adventures comes in. It offers opportunities for adults with autism to work when other traditional businesses shy away from hiring them. I recently heard from a friend who invited members of her book club to take a tour with Erik’s Minnesota Adventures. Here is what she had to say. “We just went on Mariah’s Celtic tour. It was obvious to everyone that a lot of time and effort went into planning this tour (as I’m sure has gone into the other tours). We were enchanted by what we learned, our interaction with Mariah and stepping beyond our usual comfort zone (we took an Irish dance lesson) on turf that was not customary. I have to tell you, this tour was the most fun we’ve had in a long time for all of the reasons I just mentioned.”

Another thing I’ve learned about people who don’t know someone with autism; assumptions are automatically made about their abilities. In fact, when I told another friend about the tours with Erik’s Minnesota Adventures, he was astonished that the experience guides are able to conduct the tour. This lack of awareness about autism is a huge barrier and even more reason for people to get to know individuals with autism. These tours are designed to do just that. They are at the heart of our purpose; bidirectional integration (a term we coined). Or in simple language, this kind of exposure helps those with autism gain socialization, communication skills and self-confidence as experts in an area. It helps those without autism expand their socialization, communication skills and self-confidence in interacting with different capabilities. Seems like a win-win to me.

So, go ahead, engage your sense of adventure, speak out, reach out and step out of your comfort zone to help expand awareness. Take a tour, tell someone you know about what we are doing; get involved.