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Two Tragic Deaths and Why Autism Education Should Go Up to Age 25

Two Tragic Deaths and Why Autism Education Should Go Up to Age 25
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Every day I think about what will happen to my child after I am gone. This is a frequent comment in a San Jose Mercury News story about Elizabeth Hodgins, who shot her 22-year-old autistic son, George, and then killed herself on Tuesday in their home in Sunnyvale, California.

The story really hit me. As I’ve written before, my teenage son Charlie (pictured above) is autistic and on the more severe end of the spectrum. He will always need full-time care. My husband Jim and I have done our best to provide him with a good life and a good education so far but what about that part of Charlie’s life when we are no longer here to guide the way for the boy we call our best pal ever?

George Hodgins, says the San Jose Mercury News, had attended the Morgan Center, an autism school in San Jose, since he was 6 years old. Educational services end for autistic students when they are 21 and George had been in the adult program but had left it. Jennifer Sullivan, executive director of the center, said that “Elizabeth Hodgins told her that she wanted to find a program that was more community-oriented, where her son could be out in the world.” Hodgins had apparently been having trouble finding another program for George; on hearing this, the San Jose Mercury News says:

Sullivan became upset: “I wish we would have known. He could have come back here. We loved George.”

His mother adored him and the two were “very close,” she said.

I do not know much about the Morgan Center’s adult program. Charlie will be 15 in May and my new “hobby”/obsession has been to find a good adult program for him. Charlie loves his school in New Jersey where we live and he loves going to school. I know the day that yellow bus does not pull up in front of our house will be a tough one.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability. Charlie clearly has developmental delays: He rolled over late, walked late, talked very late. He did start early intervention when he was 2 years and some months old, a huge boon. He has been in special education classes since he was 4 years old and is now in a county school for autistic children where he learns skills of daily living and vocational skills. He also receives adapted physical education (he loves it) plus art and music classes (which he is not as fond of, but likes more and more), as well as speech therapy and occupational therapy: Charlie is still learning how to speak in long phrases, how to tell time, how to tell us that he has a stomache and doesn’t fell well.

Charlie may learn how to do these by the time he is 21, the legal age at which he will no longer be covered under the Individuals with Education Act (IDEA). As we were informed in a no-nonsense kind of way at Charlie’s IEP meeting last month, the month after he turns 21, no more “entitlements” to school services. No more school with the kindly, cheerful, loving teachers, therapists, administrators and bus drivers.

I suspect if Charlie had his way, he would simply stay where he was when he turns 21.

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31 comments

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9:29AM PST on Jan 31, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

7:51PM PDT on Jun 17, 2012

oh no. Thanks for posting :(

2:17PM PDT on Mar 16, 2012

I understand this completely I also must think of a social outlet for my son Joseph when he is an adult which is not that far away I pray we can find him some thing as well

1:38AM PDT on Mar 15, 2012

LesS puttIng pEople in2 caTegoRiEs & LeAving thEm thEre wIth the subsequent difficulTiEs thAt thEy Might fAce as A reSult of theIr lAbeL. we R peOple fiRst! People NeeD Love, Not A liSt of SiDe EffEcTs.

1:33AM PDT on Mar 15, 2012

It'S sAd thAt the empHasiS seeMs 2 b oN wHaT'S wRoNg wIth pEople RaTher thAn wHat'S aMaZinG aBout pEople. Arn't AuTiStiC peOplE uSuAlly geNiuS in 1 oR MoRe oTHer wAYs?... TheSe fAmilieS neeD peOple incLuDing dOctoRs etC 2 aLwAys cOnceNtRate oN the poSitIves wIth thEse uniquE AmAzInG peOple. There NeeDs 2 B MorE CaRe, More HELp & MoRe seNsItiViTy.

8:42PM PDT on Mar 13, 2012

I am sad the woman had not looked harder for adult care or asked his previous school about options before she killed her son and herself.

8:10AM PDT on Mar 13, 2012

All the seriously disabled need public programs to see that they get the care they need however long it takes for them to overcome their disability, even if they need such care for their entire lives.

10:01PM PDT on Mar 12, 2012

Community programs are needed - art programs and music classes and weekly luncheons and jobs - we need to make places for people with many different abilities

4:36PM PST on Mar 10, 2012

Ruby W., it sounds like you are the one with the Jerry Springer relatives.

3:28PM PST on Mar 10, 2012

I'm almost 42 and I never really grew up in the sense NTs do. I could still not live all on my own, although I do fine when prompted and prodded so me and my also AS husband support each other ok.

Considering how it must be for a more severe autistic person to be left on their own at such a young age as 21, 25 should be the minimum age for education indeed.

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