The Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders: Helping autistic youth transition to independence and success
As trial lawyers we dedicate our careers to helping those whose lives have, through no fault of their own, been disrupted. Naturally, giving back to our community has long been a tradition of the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association. Each year, the OCTLA adopts a worthy non-profit organization as its annual charity. Throughout the years, OCTLA has raised over one million dollars for local non-profits to help children and families in our community overcome profound challenges in their lives. We have raised money for those fighting to recover from the devastating impact of traumatic brain injury (High Hopes Head Injury Program), children caught in the foster care system (Together We Rise), children fighting life-threatening disease (Miracles For Kids, Pediatric Cancer Foundation), amongst many others. Each year, our choice is guided by a desire to make a significant, lasting impact in the lives of a segment of our community needing help.
This year, OCTLA is proud to partner with the Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Santa Ana to raise catalytic funding to produce a first-of-its-kind program, to assist young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) successfully transition from high school into adulthood and independence, higher education and employment.
The transition to adulthood is a difficult point in everyone’s life. But for young people with ASD, it can be especially difficult. Studies show that two-thirds of ASD youth had neither a job nor educational plans during their first two years after high school, with one-third following this pattern through their early 20s. Twenty-somethings with ASD were also less likely than others with disabilities to be employed: only 58% of the ASD youth were employed, against 74% of those with intellectual disabilities, and 95% of those with learning disabilities.
Although the core of ASD disability is an inability to relate easily to other people, most people with ASD desire social interaction. Yet one in four ASD youth were shown to be socially isolated following high school, having no contact with friends for over one year. This social isolation is linked to the ASD population being nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. They are also at heightened risk for depression and anxiety.
ASD is a developmental disorder that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. It presents in a range of manners, in varying severity. The intellectual abilities of those with ASD range from gifted to severely challenged, however only a third have intellectual disability, with the significant majority with normal to above-normal intelligence. Those with ASD need varying levels of help in their lives to address these challenges. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in 59 children in the United States have ASD.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates a half million youth with ASD will turn 18 in the next decade. As they do, they enter a health and social services system that is largely unprepared for them, and which lacks the resources to assist ASD youth successfully transition to adulthood and independence. Programs focusing on the transition period to adulthood have been identified as “an urgent public health need” by the DHHS. Yet only 1% of all ASD research is focused on adulthood, including the transition to adulthood.
OCTLA is proud to support the Center for Autism’s development and delivery of this much-needed program for ASD Youth and their families to meet this critical but neglected area for our Orange County ASD community. The Center for Autism is a one-of-a kind non-profit organization tackling the complex needs of the autistic community and their families and is uniquely qualified to develop and implement this program.
Best of all, this program is intended as a “wave generator” to address a critical area of need for the broader ASD community beyond just Orange County. While the program will be initially offered to the Orange County ASD community at the Center for Autism, training and program materials developed will be available to other ASD service providers and organizations to spread the program throughout the county, state and country, making a difference in countless lives.
B. James Pantone is an attorney with the law firm of DiMarco | Araujo | Montevideo, A Professional Law Corporation, located in Santa Ana, where his practice is dedicated to the rights of injured parties with a focus in the areas of product liability, wrongful death and personal injury.
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