CBSN

Big wave of autistic teens to "age out" of assistance

BOSTON - It's being called "the coming tsunami." One in 68 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism. They get school support until age 22, but then what?

CBS Boston's David Wade reports that in the next decade, a half million young adults with autism will need a place to live, and a job. It's bringing a wave of anxiety to those who care for them, like Janet Amorello whose son Sam is 19 years old.

He was born on July 4, 1995 - Independence Day. "I think he was born smiling," Janet reminisced.

When doctors told her that little Sam had autism, it was not a word she knew. In 1995 autism wasn't what it is now.

"I went home and I Googled it, and I got six hits. Can you imagine only getting six hits today?"

Now, you'll get 74 million hits with that same search, including many discussions about "aging out." That's the term for the guaranteed schooling and other services that disappear at age 22.

Sam is two years away from aging out.

"Sam wakes up every day, and every morning he says to me 'What's the plan?' And I'm kind of like in the same place," said Janet. "I so get this now. 'What's the plan?' I don't know."

Advocates say there's simply not enough housing and jobs for the coming wave of adults with autism. A recent study showed that about 30 percent of young adults with autism will attend a two or four year college; 32 percent will get a job soon after high school; and just 19 percent will ever live away from their parents without supervision

Sam's mom is not sure of their long term plan, but she knows this: "If I'm asking society to look out for Sam, I want Sam to give something back." What he gives back is his art. He recently sold some of his work and will soon be featured in a local art exhibit.

Sam is doing well, but still, the worry is there. How independent will the young man born on Independence Day be?

"How will I keep him safe when I'm not here?" Janet worries. "I know every flicker of an eyebrow, what it means. Who's going to know that stuff? I kind of feel like I should have a Sam dictionary or something."

Young adults with autism who have the most serious challenges will often get some services through the state after age 22, but nothing is guaranteed. Janet is hoping to get Sam accepted to a special program for adults with autism. For now, he will continue living with his parents.