Forty percent of autistic children never learn to speak. Roughly half engage in aggressive behaviors, either against their caregivers or themselves. These aren't likely to be among the 10 percent with so-called savant gifts who go on to do great things in arts, science and engineering. Nor are they the fraction, substantially larger though uncounted, whose high-end functioning allows them to work and find their own way in the world. These are the other kids, the sizable percentage who don't make sudden strides or outgrow symptoms. They are the boom generation of the cognitively disabled: kids like mine, who are taught, at great expense, to fold a towel and eventually tie their shoes.
And then they turn 21 and an odd thing happens: Collectively – poof – they disappear. "Kids have federal rights to 'a free and appropriate education,' but no mandate to anything after that," says Desiree Kameka, director of community engagement and housing network for Madison House Autism Foundation, a matrix of housing and service providers for people with intellectual and developmental disorders. "Fifty thousand autistic kids are aging out a year now, and the great majority go home and get no support: no job training, therapy or socialization."