Best Kept Secret: When Kids With Autism Grow Up And Age Out

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia.

My son, Norrin, is eight years old and I try my best to focus on where he is now rather than worry about the future. But if it’s one thing I’ve learned about motherhood is that the years fly by. Eventually Norrin will age out and the special education “safety net” will be lifted. I feel lucky that Norrin’s school goes up to 21 years old but then what? Will he be able to get a job or live independently? Will he have the tools to face the world as an autistic young man?

Those are the questions the critically acclaimed documentary, Best Kept Secret tackles.

At JFK High School, located in the midst of a run-down area in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, administrators answer the phone by saying, “You’ve reached John F. Kennedy High School, Newark’s Best Kept Secret.” And indeed, it is. JFK is a school for all types of students with special education needs, ranging from those on the autism spectrum to those with multiple disabilities.

Janet Mino has taught her class of six young autistic men for 4 years. They must graduate from JFK in the spring of 2012. The clock is ticking to find them a place in the adult world – a job or rare placement in a recreational center – so they do not end up where their predecessors have, sitting at home, institutionalized, or on the streets.

Last night I had the opportunity to hear Janet Mino speak at an autism parents support group. I was inspired by her devotion and wished that there were more educators with her mindset. One of the things she said that really resonated with me was about communication. Everyone can communicate, even if they are non-verbal – their behaviors are how they communicate. We have to take the time and figure out what they are trying to say. A tough love kind of teacher, Mino strives to teach her students to live without being prompt dependent, urging parents and caregivers to do the same. “It’s a harsh world. We must prepare our kids to face it.”

It’s autism awareness month and magazines and media share the stories of children with autism. Like any other kid, children with autism grow up. Services and resources are critical at every age but as autistic individuals grow up, the resources and services dwindle down; options are extremely limited. Those are the stories that need to be heard too.  In a interview with Kpana Kpoto, Mino advises, “Even after 21, still find ways to build them up. They need support. Plan early.  In order for parents to plan early, we need to be prepared and know what to plan for. Best Kept Secret sheds light on the things parents need to know. It’s a must see for any parent or caregiver of an autistic child and for teachers wanting to better communicate with their special needs students.

Have you seen Best Kept Secret yet? If not, it’s available for download on iTunes (for personal use) and on the Academic Video Store (for educational use).

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