It’s a well-known fact that the rate of autism is rising. The number of diagnosed cases is up from one in 88 to one in 50, and it continues to rise. Much of the current research is focused on finding the cause, and a cure, but in the meantime, there is an even bigger crisis approaching. In 2013, over 50,000 people with autism will graduate from high school and enter adulthood, and this number is projected to rise in the coming years.
Lauren Betesh is a journalism student at Columbia University who produced a documentary film called “Autistic and Aging Out.” The film follows two families as they search for answers regarding their children’s futures.
Andrew Roger is an 18 year-old high school student in New Jersey. He lives with his mother, Heidi, who wonders what will happen to him when he graduates at age 21. Her options include placing Andrew in a group home, assisted living, a job, or keeping him at home until she becomes too old to care for him. The documentary follows Andrew on a typical Monday, from the time he wakes up in the morning, through his day at school. He still requires a great deal of help, even with everyday self-care such as shaving and shampooing his hair. Heidi wonders who will help him when she is gone.
The film also follows Lila and Lyndon Rochin. Lila is 89 years old, and she is the primary caregiver for her son, Lydon, who is 60. Lila says,
“Most people my age have people taking care of them. I’m still taking care of my son, and trying to create what he and other autistic people will need once they become adults.
“There is no agency, that I know of, that’s doing that today, and I’m hoping that that agency will be created before I am no longer here.”
Her son, Lyndon, lives in an apartment in Manhattan, where he does mosaic crafts as a way to bring in income. Heidi Roger has similar hopes for her son.
“I would love for him to have a productive work life, i would love for him to be happy, I would love for him to have some sort of relationship to keep him happy, but honestly I don’t know that any of that is realistic for him.”
Betesh hopes that her film will spread awareness of the problem, and help families like these find some solutions. She says,
“To me, Lila and Lyndon represented a structural problem with how we care for autistics in the United States, their experience signaling that Heidi and Andrew would be in a similar place years down the line. The first step towards making a difference is getting people to care. Hopefully my short film will start a conversation that desperately needs to be had,”
Her movie, “Autistic and Aging Out,” can be viewed at www.narrative.ly/tough-medicine/autistic-and-aging-out/.