Scientists at the University of Missouri – Columbia are working to help young people with autism make the transition to a more independent adulthood, which can be a major challenge for those with developmental disabilities.
They recently partnered with five autism clinics across the country to survey more than 500 caregivers of teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 25 with autism. Their results showed that many of these youth are struggling to achieve independence; and that the level of support their concerned caregivers are providing may be creating a “disconnect” which prevents them from doing so.
Nancy Cheak-Zamora, who led the study, is an associate professor in MU’s Department of Health Sciences and a researcher at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. “We need to allow adolescents, particularly those with disabilities, to take on greater responsibilities at an earlier age and raise their expectations by first asking them about their goals and then providing the resources and support systems to help them achieve those goals,” she said.
Cheak-Zamora recommended that parents and caregivers provide these young people with opportunities to experience mastering tasks such as cooking, shopping, managing money or driving, which are keys to living independently.
She added that it’s equally important to shift the larger perception about what individuals with developmental disabilities can achieve.
“As a society, it would be helpful to move away from a focus on deficits and challenges that people with autism and other disabilities face, to considering their strengths and skill set. We can then develop ways to help each person build on their strengths,” she explained.
“For example, many with autism are incredibly detail-oriented. So, let’s think about job opportunities that require very detailed work so they can use that skill as an asset to succeed in employment … Not only will the individual benefit, but society as a whole will as well.”