When autistic children grow up, larger challenges appear

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 8:16 PM

The March 13 front-page article "In assault case, anxious parents recognize 'dark side of autism' " underscored a reality that haunts families like mine that are touched by autism. But it is not fear of violence. Rather, it is the demographic reality that children with autism quickly become adults with autism.

As limited as research about young children with autism is, we know even less about adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum. No one can answer the questions of parents who worry: "Will my son ever hold a job? Who will protect my daughter from predators? What will happen when I die?"

The oft-cited autism rate of 1 in 110 actually applies to children born in 1998. Today's rate is probably higher. For example, one in 88 children in military families and one in 28 Somali children in Minnesota has autism.

In just a few years, these children will age out of special education programs. Yet our adult employment, health, social service, disability and justice systems are totally unprepared for these individuals as adults.

Let's hope that Theresa Vargas's grim article jolts policymakers to turn their attention to the growing numbers of adults with autism - and also to get to long-overdue answers about the causes of autism and effective interventions.

Margaret Dunkle, Washington

The writer is a senior research scientist at the health policy department at George Washington University .


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