After the end of high school, by law 22 years of age, young adults with intellectual disabilities generally live in a never-never land. Their continuing needs for educational enrichment, life skills and for job readiness is in need of far more sustained attention and funding.
The transition from high school should stretch throughout their lives, addressing their largely overlooked needs to develop independent life skills in order for them to become more functional human beings. There are thousands of young adults with intellectual disabilities over 22 years of age — the middle range — beyond whose needs are not being met. They do not fit into either the category of mere life skills training nor in highly targeted vocational training programs. They and their parents are in desperate need of continuing educational programs to enhance their wellness, their relationship to the natural world and to help them fulfill their social lives.
In the past, local parks and recreation programs as well as other community agencies provided some recreational programing for this “middle range” group. Currently, parks and recreational and community based programs have changed their service provision, increasing programing for only those with eligibility for Life Skills training funds. On the other side, adult vocational training programs have changed the entry-level skills training to a level that is too high for most “middle rangers.”
Parallel to this set of problems is a distinct lack of systematic tracking of the population after age 22. They become lost to the system beyond SSI benefits and their civil rights are systematically being violated. The prevalent state focus of funding is primarily focused on vocational rehabilitation for those able to train and get a job or adult day training facilities through Med Waiver funding or Adults With Disabilities. Far too many fall between these bureaucratic cracks. This problem needs to be addressed.
One or more small conferences should be held this fall with expert providers, special education professionals, parents, legislators, as well as non-profit and business leaders to address legislative needs in the forthcoming session and forge a new path for this population of the middle range. Focus should also be placed on comparative state and international programs and existing federal guidelines.
Greater collaboration between nonprofit and government agencies should be instituted with a focus on parental outreach to share program information, funding sources and financial criteria online, in print and at selected public offices.
Overall, we urge that greater state legislative attention and resources be provided behind the civil rights of young adults with disabilities in order to provide them with more appropriate continuing education, expert advice, recreational opportunities, immersion in the natural world, and internships in local nonprofits and businesses, while also facilitating entrepreneurship and preparing students for work.
Gregory Bush, president, Nature Links for Lifelong Learning, Miami