At The Los Angeles Times, Amina Khan reports on a program at UCLA, quoting its director, Professor Elizabeth Laugeson:
Autism is often thought of as a childhood disease, Laugeson says, and very little research has focused on adults. Resources for young people on the spectrum plummet after they turn 18.
"It's almost as if we forgot that these kids grow up," she says.
People with autism often cannot easily read the emotions of others. Tone of voice, facial expression and other verbal and nonverbal cues can be as inaccessible as a foreign language, turning the most ordinary social interactions into minefields.
This, coupled with other symptoms of autism, can have serious ramifications for young adults. Eighty-one percent of autistic people between high school and their early 20s have never lived independently; 68% have never lived apart from their parents; 64% have had no education after high school; and 42% aren't employed, according to the 2015 National Autism Indicators Report published by Drexel University's A.J. Drexel Autism Institute.
Those numbers are steep, and they don't have to be. Laugeson and other researchers say many of the right social skills — for getting a job and keeping it, for making and maintaining friendships, and for dating — can be taught, just as the underlying rules of a foreign language can be broken down and explained.
That's the goal of the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills, or PEERS.
"A lot of people think that social skills in general are innate, that you're hard-wired in some way and that you either are born with social skills or you're not," Laugeson says. "But I think what PEERS has established is that this is actually a set of skills that can be learned, that you don't have to be born with them."