Services Needed for Teens and Adults on the Autism Spectrum

By Gary Waleski


Situation: Presently, autism is a condition still in the growing stages of research and treatment. We still have work ahead of us. When adults on the autism spectrum (like me) were young, autism was almost unknown; and therefore, not treated. Today, children on the spectrum are being diagnosed and treated. They have the advantage of receiving proper treatment and all the assistance they need as they mature. They have a very optimistic future.

But, what about the older people? Presently, most services are geared towards children. There are many adults and teenagers who have been recently diagnosed. They went through life the hard way, and are still experiencing challenges. They need assistance to make up for the lack of proper help in their growing years. Services for teenagers and adults on the spectrum are desperately needed!

Problems that teenagers and adults on the autism spectrum experienced through their growing years include:

As a result, most teenagers and adults on the autism spectrum face challenging situations including:

Goal:
Ultimately; our mission is to come out with ideas to provide help for teenagers and adults on the spectrum, to account for what they have missed in their growing years. In order to accomplish this, we need to round up all of older people on the spectrum. Along with the many people out there who have been diagnosed with this condition, there are many more that are undiagnosed. If the condition is suspected, it must be diagnosed! We need a large body of these individuals before action can be taken. Also, we must educate the public. Society has to be designed to better accommodate these individuals. These people are presently experiencing complications that they do not deserve to go through, and they are definitely entitled to a better life.

A move that would make this all possible is advertising. We must put out a word to encourage people who suspect being on the spectrum, or family members of such, to receive a proper diagnosis. This way; we can round up all the people on the spectrum and achieve a large human body, and action will be taken. We must also make the public well aware of this condition. One means is by creating and distributing pamphlets to medical centres and schools. Advertising can also be done via radio and TV. If advertising can be made possible ASAP, we can get the ball rolling quickly.

A major problem that presently persists is that there are few doctors and counsellors that specialize in autism. Obviously, we must expand medical/psychological education and provide more encouragement to create more doctors in this field. Again, this could only be made possible with a large body of people on the spectrum. Today, it appears as if there are not enough people with this condition for professionals to concentrate in this area -- but the situation is not actually as it appears! There are many of those who need the assistance, and we require more professionals to accommodate them.

SERVICES FOR TEENAGERS

Counselling:
Counselling is a major key in assisting teenagers; and of course, we need a large body of professionals. Adolescents and teenagers face many emotional challenges, and these problems are heavily magnified for teens on the spectrum. Many teenagers need to have a dependable person to come to for support, and this is especially true for those who are on the spectrum.

One means that would be helpful is individual counselling, which is strictly one on one with counsellor and patient. This would be personal; and therefore, private and confidential. The counsellor can provide individual training in social skills, assertive skills, and organizational skills. The counsellor can maintain contact with the school which the patient attends, helping to monitor and assist in performance in school, and resolve ongoing problems. The counsellor can provide vocational assistance, possibly through contacts, to assist in integrating the patient into the world of employment. (I will explain in greater detail about vocational integration services later on.) The counsellor may also know contacts about programs and activities for the patient, such as support groups (which we desperately need!), leisure activities, and/or clubs (involvement groups).

Another means would be family counselling. Immediate family members need to be thoroughly educated on autism, and how to deal with the individual properly. Any problems that occur within the family can be discussed and worked out in these sessions. If the family has little or no knowledge of autism (especially in the case of it being undiagnosed), it can be a very gloomy and messy situation for them.

Support groups are something desperately needed, but presently scarce. Again, it takes a large body of diagnosed teens to make this possible. Once there are enough of those diagnosed on the spectrum, it can be possible to create support groups of several categories based on level of challenge. This way; we would have several different groups of people who are similar to one another, and everybody would be receiving appropriate support. This kind of system can be made up of regular meetings, as well as frequent special events. Group meetings would enable teenagers to make friends who have much in common, as well as to learn social skills. In addition; frequent special events, including recreational activities, can make life more pleasureful for the teens.

School:
School is a major problem for young people on the spectrum. As mentioned, these individuals can struggle in school. Peer pressure is another terrible experience that they have to endure in school. Oftentimes, teachers are of little or no help.

To improve performance in school, intensified tutoring is needed. The individual needs a full-time personal tutor who can constantly monitor the student’s performance. This tutor must always be available for assistance, and able to help the student out of any academic jam. If the teacher is not always available for extra help, at least the tutor will be. As well; the tutor can be someone that the individual can come to for help with any kind of problem in school, including peer pressure and conflicts with any teachers. Ultimately, this tutor must be somebody that the student is totally comfortable with.

Peer pressure is another major problem that must be alleviated. Each teacher should educate the class about the individual and one’s condition, and discourage the peers from teasing. Whenever there is an ongoing problem with teasing (e.g. a certain group of people constantly harassing the individual), teachers should be informed and willing to take action to rectify the problem. Such a situation can be dealt with by meeting with the group of troublesome peers, and having a serious discussion about the situation. The peers must be convinced to stop the teasing, and be monitored on a regular basis as to prevent further problems.

One idea that may help in solving the problem of peer pressure would be a peer alliance system. This system would consist of a group made up of decent peers (who do not like to participate in teasing people), and victims of peer pressure. This group would act as a social circle at school, which peer pressure targeted teens can hang out with during spare times. These people would play the role as friends, providing support for socially-challenged teens. They can monitor how their friends are being treated by their peers, and stick up for them in a civilized manner whenever there is a problem. As well; the group can arrange social events outside of school time, giving socially-deprived teens a chance to have pleasureful times with decent people. People with many friends experience less teasing. As the saying goes, “United we stand, divided we fall!”

Vocational Assistance:
Employment is another struggle for people on the spectrum. As mentioned; entering the work force without preparation can be a traumatic experience for a teenager on the spectrum, and employment can continue to be problematic in years ahead. A vocational integration plan can be a helpful solution, designed to gradually integrate teens on the spectrum into the work force.

This plan can begin with theoretic preparation, similar to a classroom setting. The counsellor would discuss in depth about employment; describing what it is like, what is expected from employees, and different types of work. The next step would be practical preparation, in which the students can perform practice tasks, perhaps in a mock workplace. This would give them the feel of working.

Once the preparation sessions are completed, the student may be assigned to temporary placement. The vocational integration committee can meet with employers who are willing to participate, and educate them on autism. The individual may be gradually integrated from part-time to full-time employment, at one’s own rate depending on the individual. The purpose of this is to gradually prepare the individual for employment. The program can assist in post-secondary education and career planning (which I will explain in greater detail later on). This program would be able to match the young individual with a steady job for the time being. This can also lead to permanent employment if the individual desires, depending on one’s career goal.

SERVICES FOR ADULTS

Counselling:
Counselling is a major key in assisting adults; and of course, we need a large body of professionals. Adults on the spectrum sometimes need to have a dependable person to come to for support, and can use some counselling and guidance to account for what they have missed in their growing years. The system can be similar to what was explained for teenagers, but on an adult scale.

Individual counselling, which is strictly one on one with counsellor and patient, would be quite helpful. This would be personal; and therefore, private and confidential. The counsellor can provide assistance in social skills, assertive skills, and organizational skills. The counsellor can provide vocational assistance, possibly through contacts, if the individual is struggling in the world of employment. The counsellor may also know contacts about programs and activities for the patient, such as support groups, leisure activities, and/or clubs (involvement groups).

There are presently support groups for adults on the spectrum, but they are general. With the present small body of diagnosed adults, we have very basic support groups that are mainstream. If more people on the spectrum come to surface, it can be possible to create support groups of several categories based on level of challenge. This way; we would have several different groups of people who are similar to one another, and everybody would be receiving appropriate support. This kind of system can be made up of regular meetings, as well as frequent special events. Group meetings would enable adults to make friends who have much in common, find companions to date, and enhance social skills. In addition; frequent special events, including recreational activities, can make life more pleasureful and fulfilling.

Career Planning:
Many adults on the spectrum would benefit greatly with assistance in career planning. Their condition should not deprive them of a career that is enjoyable and rewarding, nor restrict them to a mundane job. Upon completion of secondary education, a career-planning program would be very helpful for those individuals. This type of program would also come in handy for those who are on Employment Insurance, or Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

With this plan, the individual may be given approximately a year in this program to allow him/her to research various types of careers. The individual may begin by providing a detailed portfolio of one’s self, history, education, and past employment. The program may begin with a classroom-like setting, where the individuals may make inquiries and receive assistance in getting started. If necessary, the counsellor can discuss in depth about employment; describing what it is like, what is expected from employees, and different types of work. As well; lessons can be provided for job-searching skills, such as cover letters, resumes, phone inquiries, and interviews. The program can also provide practice tasks relating to certain careers considered, giving the individual an idea of what it is like. After that, the individual can take the time to decide what kind of occupation he/she would prefer. This program would be intensified, in order to find a suitable and enjoyable career for the individual.

Once the decision has been made, the program can provide assistance in proceeding in post-secondary education, if necessary. The counsellors in this program can assist in researching the educational requirements for the career, and finding a suitable institution (i.e. college, university, etc.). Upon graduation from school, the plan can provide assistance in placement. Job-searching skills can be reinforced, and any additional help required can be provided.

Dating:
Finding a partner for a romantic relationship is another area where adults on the spectrum experience difficulties. Specialized dating services for people on the spectrum would be very helpful in assisting these individuals to experience the pleasure of being in love. Everybody needs a companion, and people with any kind of challenge should not be an exception. Many kinds of services may be provided, ranging from singles’ gatherings to matchmaking services. Support groups (the improved types, which I have already elaborated on) may also be quite helpful.

Singles gatherings may be suitable for those who prefer to ‘do it on their own.’ This set-up may consist of regular meetings; either weekly, biweekly, or monthly. It can also provide special events, such as dinner, shows, games, and dances. This is ideal for making friends, finding dates, or simply having fun! These gatherings would be arranged in several categories, based on age and level of condition.

Matchmaking services may be suitable for those who prefer full-scale assistance in finding the suitable companion. All individuals would be required to provide complete portfolios of themselves to enable adequate matching. This type of service would be, of course, totally personal and customized. Unlike some dating services, this service must be totally honest!