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October 21, 2013 // By Steve Graff // Comments

When Kids with Autism Grow Up

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The face of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often one of a child’s. But, as a slew of government statistics, advocacy groups and high-profile newspaper articles have reminded us as of late, kids with ASD eventually become adults. In fact, 45,000 to 50,000 kids with ASD reach adulthood every year—and age out of the system of care that helped them through childhood, most likely provided by their school system.

Brodkin, Edward“What are our next options?” Many parents and caregivers may ask themselves when their child comes of age. The responsibility often then shifts entirely to parents to find education or employment and living arrangements.  While most typically-developing teenagers go on to college or work with relative ease, such a transition to adulthood for young adults with ASD and their families can be met with difficulties. Those issues include adjusting to daily life as an adult, education, psychiatric issues associated with ASD, finding strengths, managing finances, work and social skills.

Here at Penn, a new and developing program aims to begin to address that void in care. Led by Edward S. (“Ted”) Brodkin, MD, associate professor of Psychiatry, the Penn Behavioral Health’s Adult Autism Spectrum Program’s main goal is to help adolescents and adults with ASD and their families to optimize their well-being, daily function and the growth of their talents, skills and relationships.

“Most of today’s resources are focused on children, but there’s a large wave of people with ASD who are growing up to be adults who are going to need help—and there are very few services available to them now,” says Dr. Brodkin.

The needs of adults with ASD may range from full-time care to building skills and confidence in navigating the social world (forming friendships, managing social interactions in college or at work, etc).  That’s why the Penn’s new program is tailored to each individual, given the wide spectrum of autism.  

“We want to maximize people’s potential,” Dr. Brodkin says. “That often means helping them develop social skills useful for navigating the world of adolescence and adulthood and providing them with the capacity for more independence. Or it could mean a revised medication and behavioral treatment and support plan to better address their goals.”

The program helps patients and their families navigate treatment, act as liaisons to primary providers, and suggest modifications to treatment plans, if need be.

Adult family members of individuals with ASD (of any age) may also have questions about ASD and how to best help their son, daughter, sibling, or relative on the spectrum. Many family members are under some degree of chronic stress, and the new program aims to provide help for those situations, too.

The initial consultation addresses questions coming from the patient and their families and/or providers, and can provide recommendations about diagnosis, assessment, treatment and day-to-day functioning.  A detailed review of prior treatments is also folded into the discussion. 

Follow-up consultations are available to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment and support plans.

“It’s never too soon to start thinking about the future,” says Dr. Brodkin. “People with ASD, parents, families and caregivers can begin to explore various resources available in order to make the transition to adulthood smoother.”

For more about the Penn Behavioral Health’s Adult Autism Spectrum Program visit here. 

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