In many ways, Dana Eisman, 20, of Potomac, Md., is like any other young adult. She rocks out to Train, adores Glee, and eats pizza every week. And this June, like many of her peers, she’ll leave school and join the real world.But for Dana—and her parents, Beth, who works in a doctor’s office, and Rob, a business owner—that prospect is terrifying. “I want to celebrate,” Beth says, “but what I feel is a knife in my heart.”That’s because Dana is autistic. She can’t hold a conversation, make eye contact, verbalize her thoughts, cross the street alone, or control herself when she’s upset. Starting when she was 4—thanks to a federal law that guarantees disabled children an appropriate education—she has spent her weekdays at Ivymount, a private school for special-needs students that she loves and that has been paid for by the state and county. But because Dana turns 21 this week, that support will dry up when the school year ends, leaving her parents to agonize about the quality of life their daughter is facing. Living with Autism See Dana's Family Photos Meet 6 More Families Struggling with Autism Read about New Proposed Legislation in Congress Read Interview with 'Wretches & Jabberers' Filmmakers In the next 15 years, an estimated 500,000 autistic children like Dana will graduate out of school systems in the U.S. and into the unknown. Meaningful programs for them are scarce, and funding even scarcer. “We’re at the moment of truth to address the numbers of children aging into adulthood,” says autism activist Linda Walder Fiddle. “Their lives are hanging over a cliff, and we must not let them fall.”
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