The Trend in Service Needs for Individuals with Asperger's
As an intake specialist and supervisor in YAI’s LINK Department, the intake, information and referral unit, I help connect people with disabilities to the services that meet their unique needs.
So far this year, our department has received over 3,000 inquiries from people seeking information on autism services. An estimated 25 percent of those inquiries are specifically regarding individuals who either have a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, or are characterized as having “high functioning autism.”
Individuals with Asperger’s are impaired in their ability to interact socially, and lack the subtle communication skills that are the building blocks to forming relationships with others. They also have restrictive interests that may limit the types of activities they participate in and their opportunities to make friends. A common request by parents, therapists and the individuals themselves is a program that allows them to socialize with others. Often this request is tied to an underlying hope for romantic relationships. Socialization programs offer a safe environment for individuals to learn skills for interacting on different levels and developing new relationships. These groups also encourage members to incorporate these skills in a variety of different settings.
Building on Academic Interests & Skills
Individuals with Asperger’s are more likely to excel in academics. As their high school education comes to an end they, like their typically developing peers, are often looking to transition into a post secondary program that will build on their academic abilities and interests. However, because of the difficulty in socializing with peers and “fitting in,” it is imperative to find a program that will provide the right type of social and academic support to ensure the individual will be successful. Caregivers frequently seek specialized college transition programs and supports to help their children be successful in school. More recently, families have been contacting YAI LINK looking for mentors and coaches to ease the transition and to help navigate the social aspects of moving on.
Employment & Vocational Training
LINK receives a large volume of calls from higher functioning individuals on the spectrum who are looking for employment. Higher functioning individuals are more likely to retain academic skills and leave school at age 18, much like their typically functioning peers. However, their social deficits, restrictive interests and lack of social problem-solving skills can limit the types of jobs in which they are able to be successful without assistance. They often request vocational training focused on interviewing skills, supervisor/employee relations, peer relationships and other social aspects of the workplace.
A significant number of individuals with Asperger’s or high functioning autism are also seeking therapy services. There is a high percentage of individuals who call to self-refer for individual and group therapy. Difficulties in social relationships can lead to isolation, confusion, anxiety and depression. Individuals who are higher functioning are more likely to want to interact with others, but just don’t know how. Therapy is often requested to help learn how to deal with the diagnosis, develop social skills, improve relationships and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some of these common concerns may develop into more significant mental health issues which can require psychiatric care.
Families are increasingly seeking housing programs for their adult children who do not require 24-hour oversight and high staffing ratios. They request programs to help teach their loved ones the skills to live independently. Higher functioning individuals may be able to do many things independently, but still struggle to navigate the world of living alone or with roommates, paying bills and problem-solving everyday issues. More of these types of programs are being developed to meet this demand.
The best way to help an adult with Asperger’s get the support he or she needs is to really know the individual’s functioning level, interests and capabilities.
As the demand for specific programs to meet the needs of adults with Asperger’s syndrome increases, it is crucial that we work together as a professional community to make such programs available.