The Great Transition

The world is witnessing an incredible social phenomenon of historical significance taking place right before our eyes. While the events surrounding this massive change may not garner international attention, the impact will have lasting consequences. Thousands of teens on the autism spectrum are moving rapidly towards adulthood, with a great deal of anticipation combined equally with uncertainty. Institutions such as colleges, financial services, governmental agencies, and assisted living are beginning to take notice. In view of the fact that millions of young people around the world are living with autism, addressing their long term needs will take center stage in the years ahead. While transitioning to adulthood is not unique in and of itself, the sheer number of people on the autism spectrum, at this point in history, is conspicuously distinctive. Unlike past generations, our world today is more accepting, open, and tolerant of people with disabilities of all kinds. Moreover, due to the broad spectrum of abilities found within the autism community, unique talents are often viewed as complementary in educational and employment settings.

The maturation of the autistic community will significantly impact key areas of society as we advance towards the middle of the 21ST century. Namely, sectors such as health care, financial services, technology, and housing are chief among the industries that will experience myriad changes. Employment is a major concern for adults on the spectrum seeking to live, but future hiring trends will be tied to changes in technology more than we realize. Subsequently, technology is the central focal point for autistic people entering adulthood and the implications for future living are enormous. The link between the tech industry and the autism community is strong indeed, as evidenced by support from some leaders in the industry. Research is currently underway to find solutions to improve the quality of life for people living with autism.

Tech giants Microsoft and Google are spearheading initiatives to identify ways to improve eye contact and socialization among autistics – thus changing their life experience in dramatic fashion. The delivery of health care will also undergo substantial changes as autistic adults enter the system without the protective umbrella of parental care. In addition, the need for community based health care will soon become a hot topic as individuals on the spectrum seek independent living options in assisted living, group homes, and supported housing. Surely there must be changes in how health care is delivered to members of the autism community as issues such as communication barriers, transportation, sensory deficits, and situational anxiety must be addressed.

The remaining quadrants of the autism transition involve areas that are interrelated, but will be addressed as separate issues. The first involves the complex matter of financial planning for special needs adults. As members of the autism population age, some will inherit the proceeds from trusts and retirement accounts established by parents. The future for many others, however, is much more uncertain as the funds dedicated to long term financial security are simply unavailable. This is a tremendous opportunity for the financial services industry to provide education for autistic families regarding the intricacies of money management.

The final piece of the puzzle involves housing for millions of adults on the autism spectrum as parents grow old and are no longer able to provide in home care. Siblings and other family members will assume the role of caretaker in many instances – but not always. As mentioned earlier, the assisted living industry is starting to realize the potential of providing long term housing to autistic adults from a business standpoint. The industry collectively must embrace technology and create an environment that enhances the quality of life for autistic residents. Further, independent living choices must address sensory and perceptual concerns in order to maximize the benefits of living life to its fullest potential.