Healthcast: Dreams and fears of teens with autism

Healthcast

What does adulthood look like to teenagers with autism? A researcher at the University of Utah went straight to the kids to see what they wanted their futures to look like.

Evan and Aaron Newman are about to graduate from high school. Both have autism. Both worry about impending adulthood.

“I’m not ready to deal with strangers a whole bunch. I like having a more familiar setting like with my family,” said Evan.

“It’s probably, like the scariest thing I’ve ever had looming ahead of me. It’s kind of this big unknown,” Aaron explained.

Both were part of the research project seeing how autistic teens understand the transition to adulthood.

University of Utah assistant professor Anne Kirby interviewed 27 students.

Kirby said, “So much research is about people on the autism spectrum, but it’s not with them. So it’s not talking to them, it’s not hearing their own voices and their own ideas.”

The kids told Kirby they want good jobs, college, and families, but they didn’t always grasp how to get there or challenges their disability could bring. Evan and Aaron’s mom knows all about that. Her two older children also are autistic.

Jennifer Newman said, “It’s just all those other coping skills, that executive functioning, the planning, the ability to handle the stress.”

Newman and Kirby agree adulthood is a more subjective place for kids with autism and that preparing them should start early.

Kirby elaborated, “We do want to work with teens and families and service systems to help start as early as possible, preparing for adulthood.”

Kirby hopes her study will lead to better transition services for kids like Evan and Aaron.

Kirby is already working with parents to help them prepare their kids for “the real world” with things like time management, money management and interview skills. These will help them make smoother transitions into college or the workforce.

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