A high school sophomore with autism takes a career assessment test. (Photo by Alex Jacobs)
Viewpoint School

Opinion: The future of high school students with autism

Kodi Lee made headlines as a 22-year-old blind, autistic, singing and piano-playing contestant in May 2019 on the competition TV show “America’s Got Talent.” America has fallen in love with him and his talent, and his success gives hope to a brighter future for many in the young autistic community, one that defies the limits of the disability.

This is an important issue to consider, as autism is affecting more and more high school students as the years go on. From 2002 to 2006, there has been a 57% increase of children diagnosed with autism in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since that time period reflects the birth years of current high school students, the CDC states that one in every 110 high school students is autistic. This also means that these autistic high school students will need to find their place in society, whether that is in college, or the workforce.

For a few members of my family, these struggles will be a reality. While some of my autistic family members are still children, I worry about the stress of obtaining a high school education while juggling autism and learning disorders that lies ahead. But these challenges are steadily approaching.

High school can bring a lot of new obstacles into one’s life: socially, academically, and more. I can only hope that by the time my autistic family members reach the end of high school, they will be able to take advantage of the college and career resources available for autistic high school students. 

According to NPR, “public schools [are] work[ing] to meet students needs as more colleges create programs to support students with autism.” Although this may be true, “Nationwide, students with autism are enrolling in college in relatively low numbers.”

This is a large issue facing the autistic community currently. Students lack the support necessary to achieve success, and for certain low income families, it is more than difficult to find the most accommodating resources for their children. 

Upon graduating from high school, autistic high schoolers have the opportunity to enter the workforce with many options: Amazon, Google, Bank of America, The Home Depot and so many more are hiring, and the list continues to grow each year according to autismspeaks.org.

The program called ADVICE works to “help companies develop initiatives to hire, train and retain employees with autism. Although these resources are available, only high school students from more privileged families, who have more opportunities to take their children to the more expensive resources, are able to be aware of these opportunities.

While this is good news for autistic students, the issue hindering many autistic children and parents from accessing these programs is awareness. My cousin has autism, but he struggles with access to these programs. His family is lower income, which means his parents have more difficulty finding help for my cousin.

They, like many other parents from low income families, do not know how to prepare their autistic child for school and the future. Therefore, such programs should be promoted further through all special education teachers and schools the autistic children attend.

Furthermore, I have a friend who has an autistic cousin living in New York. This autistic cousin, who comes from a poor immigrant Chinese family, just graduated from high school, but cannot have a life of his own. He will forever need his mother to take care of him, for he was not able to take advantage of the array of autism programs that could have helped him find a future in college or with a job.

His Chinese mother spoke little English, which prevented them from having access to these English-speaking programs. Because he was not able to benefit from them, he has no future that involves college or career options. 

I advocate that such programs can be made more accessible to low-income families and immigrant families who are not strong in English. Autistic high school students from these families suffer the most. If these underserved families are more educated on autistic resources, autistic high school students can have a better chance of succeeding.  

Currently, mostly families from higher incomes are able to help their autistic high school students succeed. According to an article by University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Adityarup “Rup” Chakravorty, “Children living in census tracts with lower socioeconomic development [are] less likely to be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder than children living in areas with higher socioeconomic indicators.”

Due to this, there are most likely thousands of unreported autistic children that have simply not been accounted for from these disadvantaged communities. It is extremely likely that these children who are not diagnosed lack the support and resources necessary for everyday life. The amount of children diagnosed with autism every year could be much greater than what is reported since it is more difficult for low income families to find the support right for them.

Thus, our goal should be to promote such autistic resources to help lower income and autistic children succeed coming from ethnic, non-English speaking families. By targeting demographics, people like my autistic cousin can be helped. Many autistic high school students from immigrant families can also be helped. Through promoting these programs more thoroughly, I am confident that more families will have the necessary tools to help their autistic high school student succeed in life. 

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