This weekend I read two articles that made me think about the needs for adults with autism. One was from a Minneapolis Star Tribune feature, the other from Cargill News.

Homes for Adults with Autism

Alternative Living in the Star Tribune was about ingenuity that parents employ to find real homes, not institutional homes, for their adult children with disabilities. No longer believing that adults with disabilities have nothing to offer, parents have lobbied for and won services that allow these individuals to become self-sufficient as adults. So, homes that allow them to live with independence are a natural outcome. Families are getting creative and finding ways to give their children a home, not just a roof over their heads.

One section in particular from that article stood out to me. There are 1 million to 1.5 million Americans with autism, 80 percent of whom are younger than 22, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The statistics are frightening,” said Tony Paulauski of the Arc of Illinois, an advocacy organization. “What’s going to happen to all these folks? We are bracing ourselves for a demographic wave and we are totally unprepared.”

Some of us, mostly parents of children with disabilities, saw this coming years ago. We have almost single-handedly been working toward a solution: homes and jobs for our children. But the need has become too great to apply it only to our own microcosm.

“People see how futile the situation is,” Paulauski said. “And as government continues to shrink, it becomes even more important that families look at other sustainable models.”

Jobs for Adults with Autism

In another article, the January/February issue of Cargill News, the company newsletter, I read about a positive outcome for young adults with autism who work inside a corporation, at jobs that use their talents and skills. As part of Project SEARCH (now called LEARN), 12 students with disabilities, including autism, were asked to intern at Cargill. Employees embraced the interns and were pleased with the outcome.

But individuals with autism know they have skills and abilities that are infinitely marketable; that’s not the problem. It’s employers who need convincing.

Debbie Dykstra at Cargill Canadian headquarters in Winnipeg gets it. “I think it’s easy to have preconceived notions,” she said. “We have to work to dispel those, and focus on matching an individual’s skills with our needs as an organization.”

Embracing creativity, standing together and stepping out of the societal comfort zone is the only way our loved ones with autism will have the jobs and homes they deserve.

Every part of our society needs to find a way to encourage meaningful participation in a variety of forms. All of us at Erik’s Ranch & Retreats are working to make that a reality.