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Shining A Light On Older Teens With Autism

On May 5, 2010 by Sharon

Shining A Light On Older Teens With Autism

Dr. Fred Volkmar discussed the challenges in working with young adults with autism at recent conference here. Michael Fine/UJA-F

Dr. Fred Volkmar discussed the challenges in working with young adults with autism at recent conference here. Michael Fine/UJA-F
Conference focuses on underserved population as they make the tough transition to adulthood.

Sharon Udasin, Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
In the last 10 or so years, autism has exploded into the national consciousness. For parents with young children, the terms “autism spectrum disorder” and Asperger’s

In the last 10 or so years, autism has exploded into the national consciousness. For parents with young children, the terms “autism spectrum disorder” and Asperger’s syndrome have become part of a new vocabulary to describe children who seem withdrawn, uncommunicative, anti-social or slow to pick up on social cues.

While the vast majority of the attention given to autism has focused on very young children, teenagers with the condition who have to navigate the difficult transition into adulthood seem to have received short shrift. For them, the passage can be a particularly trying time, as they struggle to achieve academically, adapt socially and excel in new careers — independent from the arms of the local school districts that oversee their care until age 21.

To shine a light on this underserved population, UJA-Federation of New York convened an autism symposium on April 22 that focused on adolescents emerging into young adulthood with a wide range of spectrum disorders, and how the community can better respond to meet their growing needs. The diagnosis rate of autism has surged in the past couple of years, rising from approximately 1 in 150 in 2007 to 1 in 110 in 2009, according to a Center for Disease Control journal publication presented at the conference by Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, medical epidemiologist and chief of developmental disabilities at the CDC.

But research on the disorder has thus far focused primarily on children, leaving those who are striving to become independent young adults largely out of the picture.

“Sometimes in adolescence kids take off for the better; sometimes kids take off for the worse,” said Dr. Fred Volkmar, director of the Yale Child Study Center and a speaker at the conference. He laments the lack of resources that focus on autistic young adults. “This is unfortunate because this is often the group of people that want help the most.”

The conference stemmed from the UJA-Federation’s ongoing effort to promote research and community action for people with mental disabilities. In recent years the charity has poured about $7 million into the effort, channeling money from its Caring Commission to agencies such as the Jewish Childcare Association, the JCCs of the Greater Five Towns, Manhattan and Mid-Westchester, the Riverdale Y, the Samuel Field Y, the Sid Jacobson JCC and Westchester Jewish Community Services, among others. The money began flowing after a federation-sponsored study in 2006 analyzed the recent increase in autism cases and the impact of the disorder on the Jewish community. Agencies were then asked to develop programs to meet the growing need.

“A lot of our work has been focused on those young adults with autism who are not eligible and for whom there is no special funding,” said Anita Altman, deputy managing director of government and external affairs at UJA-Federation, who works with city and state governing bodies to bring public funds to the programs. “There’s very little money that goes into these kinds of services.”   Continue reading…

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