April. Autism Awareness Month...30 days of focus on autism spectrum disorders. A good thing for those who need to learn more about it. Yet for parents who are living it every day, there's another need. Planning.
The need for parents to effectively advocate for their children in school cannot be overstated. Understanding the diagnosis is a given, yet the real need is correlating it to their child's individual needs. Key word = individual.
ASD (autism spectrum disorders) is not one thing, but many things and each child is unique. Their needs continue to change as new skills are acquired, as they move from childhood to the teenage years, and as environments, expectations, and demands change.
Today must be the priority. Yet tomorrow is coming, and planning for the many transition points, both large and small -- moving to middle school, going from having an aide to flying solo -- requires focusing on today, ensuring school is building a strong and lasting foundation, and keeping a keen and careful eye on what's coming next. And when.
The need for parents to think about college may seem a long way off if the focus right now is on learning to play at recess. Or it may seem out-of-reach at the moment.
Yet if higher education, whether community college or a four-year university, may be the child's goal, their transition plan must address it. And this means more than goals stating: "Megan will research post-secondary education options" or "Tim will visit two colleges".
And, if colleges are already being explored, parents must plan to evaluate each school's disability services departments. Before acceptance and a commitment, you need to know about them. Afterward, you need to know them.
The need for parents to think about and plan for *that* transition -- from school to employment -- must begin early. The skills needed for employment based upon the child's interests and abilities need to be evaluated and gaps filled. And...it must be individualized vs. a boiler-plate program.
Also, employers need to recognize that they have employees with Asperger's Syndrome, Non-Verbal Learning Disability, and other "hidden diagnoses" already in their employ. And more are to come.
Many companies, such as Microsoft & SAP, are already actively recruiting employees with ASD, yet the net must continue to widen. Employers need to recognize that many of these employees may need accommodations, and that embracing their strengths as well as their needs is what results in success.
Parents already know that one day, school will end and so too will the services and supports their child has been receiving. If college comes next, it's a different arena with different rules and different expectations. And if it's employment, the changes are significant.
This reality makes even the strongest parents weak in the knees.
This is why the need to prepare for life is really what this is all about. And we all have a part to play -- extended families, schools, colleges, employers, religious institutions, the community, and more.
Children with autism spectrum disorders become adults. They become part of the fabric of our world with astonishing strengths and gifts to share. And they become adults with needs that continue to require support.
April may be Autism Awareness Month, but we'll really be integrating those with autism spectrum disorders into every aspect of life when the awareness is ongoing. That's when we'll know that it no longer requires 30 days of attention.