Children With Autism 'Fall Off the Cliff' After Graduation

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Erik, the highest-functioning student in the group, is smart, talkative and great at following directions. He may be the most likely to make it in the real world. But his biological mother is too sick to care for him and he relies on a dedicated foster mother.

Robert's home life is chaotic and it is reflected in his classroom work. He can read and spell, but is frequently absent. His father home-schooled him until dying four years ago. Now, an aunt, a recovering drug addict, looks after him.

Quran is the only one being raised by both his parents. He is able to read and control all of his behaviors, but his family doesn't know where to turn for help.

"His parents spend every minute of the day thinking about him and his life," said film producer DiGiacomo. "But they have to put food on the table and there is no time to access information on places where he can go."

Parents work full time and need placement for their children when they go to work. Programs are costly and navigating the bureaucracy is difficult.

After-school recreation centers only operate from 10 to 1, impractical hours for working parents. And some families don't even have cars.

"These are the simplest things that we don't think about that can make or break families," said Buck. "But they don't have a woe-is-me [attitude]. This is their life and they love their children."

Erik works hard when given direction and takes on a part-time job cleaning at Burger King.

"Everybody loves him," said Buck. "They are good workers. This is not charity."

But students need work coaches to help with the transition into a job, and Erik's coach has 100 other clients.

Some will find part-time work or activities at a recreation center. Most of what is available resembles piecemeal factory work.

The filmmakers see Mino as the "heroine," fighting to create meaningful lives for her students.

Mino said the intensity of filming the search for her students' placements, she decided to fulfill a lifelong dream: to create her own center for young adults with autism.

She has now written a grant application to open the Valentine Center, which she calls the "center with a heart."

Mino said she hopes to provide parent-friendly hours and transportation, as well as a variety of therapies and activities -- "the basic things they need to survive."

Until then, Mino continues to teach at JFK High School, where it's all about her students.

"I fall in love easily," she said.

"They are people," director Buck said of Mino's students. "If an audience can feel emotionally connected to Eric or Quran or a Robert, that might be an impetus to do something. It's a first step."

Buck said the making of the film was "kismet, in a way" and her hope is that viewers "watch the film they stop seeing these guys as young men on the autism spectrum and really get to know them. ... It's a first step."

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