Autism Spectrum Disorders and School

PhotoBucket ImageI came across an article in the US News & World report health section today that caught my eye. They were discussing a study published in Psychiatric Services last month (August 2011). The research looked at the use of mental health services by adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder. They were looking at data from a longitudinal study that covered a 10 year period, and discovered that about half of those who received mental health services received them at school.

Obviously school plays an important role in the lives of those with autism spectrum disorders. Normally these students would be receiving specialized services as indicated, but to also be receiving specific mental health services is important to pay attention to. What happens to these youth when they are no longer in school? The general information that came out was that it was primarily youth from lower-income families that were receiving these services in school, so without a doubt these are also youth who are at high-risk to not have services when they are out of school. The need for mental health services does not dissipate just because one completes school though. So is anything being done to bridge the gap?

The article points to the importance of bridging the gap, as did the research itself, but neither addressed whether or not it is happening. We know that community based mental health services are lacking in general. I would not expect to find bridging programs with any consistency, especially with Autism being a spectrum disorder – on the lower end of the spectrum people may not qualify for any services outside of the school system.

This is kind of a scary and sad place for us to be. The importance of what the school system is offering cannot be understated, but what happens to these families when the schools are no longer there? Anyone have an experience like that? One thing I have learned, regardless of what research shows personal experience is the best way to understand a situation like this.