The discussion about the treatment of the adults working at the turkey farm tied to ideas I’ve discussed before. As I tweeted earlier today, the population of developmentally disabled adults is growing, and the demographics show that we haven’t reached the knee of the curve yet, the point at which the rate of increase changes dramatically. This problem is compounded by two issues: first, the changing rate of autism confounds earlier predictions; second, as noted by a parent I spoke with recently, there aren’t particularly good numbers on the incidence of ASD with information about what the skills of these people will be as they depart the statutory scheme of IDEA, which covers young adults only through 21. Because IDEA revolves around educational benefits, it includes funding for those services provided that also ends at 21.
My question is this: if prisoners are about 1% of our population, and so are those with ASD, won’t we spend at least as much as a society on our innocent adults as we do on the criminals? That’s a big number, and just as good anti-recidivism programs are widely believed to reap substantial direct and indirect financial benefits, providing long-term self-advocacy and self-sufficiency skills to those with ASD may likely have long-term benefits far in excess of their costs. Remember, our kids are likely to live a long time. We should be treating the long-term management of this disease like a public health issue, with an eye toward the long-term costs and benefits of various courses of action.