This report from the Government Accountability Office, about a conference to study how California helps disabled youths transition to work and postsecondary education is intended to help policy makers in Washington understand the gaps in services required by law that exist in a big state witha diverse population. (The report mentions autism only once, in passing, as one of the disabilities covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA).) The report gives a basic grounding in what is supposed to happen and what really does happen in federal efforts to help disabled teens -- a $10.5 billion investment for 6.8 million youths in 2005. The take-aways include:
- School districts pressured to include disabled kids in assessment tests reduce vocational and life skills training time to focus on test-related materials.
- Youths are not participating in the development of their individualized education plans (IEPs), which offer a chance to learn self-advocacy skills.
- School districts often don't reach out to government agencies or community-based groups which could help them take advantage of vocational training and other services for disabled youths.
- The low-income eligibility requirements for students to receive government income assistance such as Social Security can lead to gaps in services for some students.
It's important to note that there are some promising programs, according to the GAO (see page 15 of the report). Several vocational programs, including the Marriott Foundation Bridges program that has provided training for young people with disabilities in six urban areas around the country since 1990, and even helps provide trainees with adaptive technologies to help them do productive work. Other programs cited here were much smaller, California-based, but also promising.