Building the Superhighway for Transitioning Adolescents and Adults with Autism

October 5, 2019

(October 2019 Series, Blog #1)

Highways are designed and built with much thought, engineering and investment. Rules of the road help us get where we’re going easily, quickly and safely. For drivers and passengers alike, onramps and offramps offer many choices, including opportunities to extend exciting journeys or return the way we came.

During this week’s Autism Speaks Thought Leadership Summit on Transition to Adulthood in Washington, D.C., I had the chance to share our family’s journey of Matt’s transition to adulthood and humbly reflect on the myriad challenges and opportunities associated with education, healthcare, employment, housing, research, life-course outcomes, system gaps—and so much more.

Consider this our time in history to build the superhighway for transitioning adolescents and adults with autism and other neuro-diversities. Each lane represents a different sector: public, philanthropic, private and nonprofit. Now consider where you want to go, what you’ll be driving or what may be driving you to your destination. Understandably, we won’t all arrive at the same time, in the same way. With the potential for traffic jams and gridlock, highways—and life—don’t work that way.

We need to phase in our ambitious plans by recognizing that each sector has much to offer as it diligently builds its respective lane of the superhighway:

  • In the public lane, think K-12, higher and vocational ed, research, resources for services and supports, and progressive policy maintaining the rules of the road.
  • Philanthropically, consider innovations made possible by social capital and investments empowering us to engineer new highways and pathways, learn important lessons and ultimately deliver more options to more people.
  • The private lane gets built as marketplace dynamics recognize what’s good for business—whether its workforce diversification, responding to consumer demands and creating brands that do good and do well.
  • And then there’s the HOV lane, which nonprofits like Autism Speaks, First Place® AZ and other organizations attending the summit have masterfully built through passion, perseverance and collaboration.

Take a few moments to determine what you can contribute to or build for this superhighway. Perhaps a temporary or permanent supportive “overpass” while we’re under construction? An innovative model with proof points making a supportive, new ramp possible? Progressive policies representing those all-important guardrails for our collective safety? Critical funding and engineering fueling greater capacity and more positive life-course outcomes?

While some of us are close to our desired destinations, others have much longer distances to go before securing a job or moving away from the family home. And still others have taken a detour and need to get back on the road.

Rev up and join us on this journey! Working together with a common destination in mind, we can ensure housing and community options will be as bountiful for people with autism and other neuro-diversities as they are for everyone else.

Watch for the Autism Speaks report from this week’s summit—and join fellow pioneers at the First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium in Phoenix, Oct. 23–25, too!

Next: Cultivating Supportive, Inclusive Communities (Blog #1 October Series) 

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