Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Thinking About The Big Picture, The Long Term

There's a lot of media coverage nowadays focusing on parents of young children recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, and it's justified given the rise in diagnoses, and the subsequent puzzling out of what services work for the given child's circumstances. This blog will pay attention to those kinds of questions (note the guide on the right from behavior.org about choosing ABA providers, under "Reports and Books," for example). But while parents will always be focused on the immediate needs of their kids, assessing what services they require and whether they are making progress, it's also vital to think about the medium term and long term.

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.
In other words, if California is a good case study like the GAO asserts, the big puzzle for getting access to the right services to help older children with autism spectrum disorders (or other disabilities) is a quite a bit like the early childhood days: parents and their kids have to navigate what services are available and where, the best fit, and the search has to extend beyond the school district.

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.

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