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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Autistic Adults in Michigan

A report this year by the state Department of Community Health called for the creation of a state resource center for adults. Nearly half of parents of austistic individuals ages 13 to 25 said they needed better access to higher education and employment services to supplement programs offered to public schoolchildren, according to the report.
“As you go along the lifespan, there’s tons and tons of programs for kids and then as you get older, there are less and less,” said Kathy Johnson, president of the board of the Autism Society of Michigan. “They still need the same kind of support, but there’s a gap for teens and another gap for adults.”

There has been a shift lately toward greater emphasis on working with people on the spectrum to try to prepare them for the workplace. Michelle Soto, president of the Bloomfield Hills-based nonprofit Wish Upon a Teen, says her organization offers opportunities for teens and young adults to learn social and technical skills that would lead to jobs.
On the education side, Michigan has few programs for young adults. For the past eight years, Oakland University has had a program called OUCARES to assist students with autism, while Eastern Michigan University’s Autism Collaborative Center developed its program five years ago.
Even as programs and services grow, many can’t get the assistance they need, said Kathy Sweeney, director of OUCARES.
“The gap is probably getting wider in that more and more individuals are getting diagnosed with autism,” she said. “This is a community issue, and we need to make it a more autism-friendly community.”
But training and teaching skills is only one part of the equation, says Cindy Burdi, an employment development coordinator with the Macomb Oakland Regional Center. A bigger challenge is overcoming the hesitation some employers may have about hiring a person with disabilities.
Burdi’s center provides job coaches for employers to help those with autism perform work. She even goes to job interviews to help clarify employers’ questions for her clients.
“One of the biggest things is employers are afraid of the adjustments they might have to make and they don’t realize they’re very minor things. They’re nervous to employ someone,” Burdi said.