During a freewheeling daylong discussion of autism in young adults Saturday, there was one message above all that Peter Gerhardt was trying to transmit.
The educational system, he said, is failing to adequately prepare children with autism for independence as adults.
"I'm very tired of meeting adults with autism who can do a math worksheet properly but can't cross the street by themselves," Gerhardt told an audience of perhaps 200 educators and parents - and a few young adults with the disorder - at Saturday's annual autism forum at the San Joaquin County Office of Education.
Gerhardt, director of a school program in New York that serves adolescents with autism, has worked in the field for more than 30 years. He visited Stockton to drum home the point that the educational system that is serving children with autism is inadequately preparing them.
He said he does not like to classify autistic people as "high functioning" or "low functioning" because he knows autistic people with IQs of 140 who are "not functional" and others with IQs of 40 who are "very functional."
Independence, he said, should be the focus of all Individual Education Plans written by school officials for their autistic clients, because independence is the key to fulfillment.
"We need to focus on skills that really make a difference in a person's life," Gerhardt said. "If we're not providing skills that transfer out of the classroom, that's a real problem. When is the last time any of you wrote an IEP where the goal was happiness?"