In The Politics of Autism, I write:At US News, Gaby Galvin writes about the cliff.
When disabled people reach their 22d birthday, they no longer qualify for services under IDEA. ... People in the disability community refer to this point in life as “the cliff.” Once autistic people go over the cliff, they have a hard time getting services such as job placement, vocational training, and assistive technology. IDEA entitles students to transition planning services during high school, but afterwards, they have to apply as adults and establish eligibility for state and federal help. One study found that 39 percent of young autistic adults received no service at all, and most of the rest got severely limited services.
But support is not guaranteed after that, contributing to the poor educational and vocational outcomes, which vary greatly depending on the state and even the county people live in, says Paul Shattuck, who directs the Life Course Outcomes Program at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University. He likens the institute and its research efforts to "the Census Bureau of the autism world."
Part of the geographic variation is because states have different eligibility requirements for services – such as supported employment or housing – that are often focused on intellectual disability or mental health, but not autism specifically. People with autism tend to "fall between the cracks," Shattuck says, leaving many young adults and their parents struggling to navigate the complicated network of programs available as they leave the school system.
And as service-sector jobs have overtaken the U.S. economy in recent decades, it's become increasingly important to provide supports to prevent autistic adults from becoming even more marginalized, he says.
"What's the one thing that all service jobs have in common? You have to be able to relate to people and be sociable," Shattuck says. "And that is uniquely disadvantageous for people whose disability by definition is having difficulty relating to people."
Because autistic students can take longer to learn some skills, students should be out in the community as often as possible, practicing things like grocery shopping and taking public transportation to help them develop a sense of independence and responsibility, says Dr. Peter Gerhardt, founding chairman of the Scientific Council for the Organization for Autism Research and executive director of the Educational Partnership for Instructing Children, a school for autistic children in New Jersey.