Global News

February 18, 2013

When Autistic Children Are Children No More

Three Chicago families confront the looming social crisis.
By Cassie Walker Burke

he peas must be sorted. On a recent Friday morning, several 20-something volunteers buzz around a North Shore basement that houses a food pantry for the needy. Pouya Bagherian, an outgoing young man who is prone to mistakenly throwing valuables into the trash, goes through bags of donations. Jason Kaplan, a quiet type who is most comfortable plugged into his iPod, checks each can of peas to make sure it has no puncture marks. And Frank Craven, who is slight and wears thick-rimmed glasses, organizes the cans on a shelf so that the earliest expiration dates are in front.

These tasks require an enthusiasm for repetition that many people would find mind numbing. Not these three. Bagherian and Kaplan, both 26, are autistic; Craven, also 26, has a rare autism-like condition called Lowe syndrome. Coming here lets them build real-world skills such as organization and teamwork, plus earn the satisfaction of a job well done. Equally important, it gives them a reason to get up in the morning.

Many autistic adults have a hard time finding their place in the world. Less than half enroll in higher education or find work. (According to the Social Security Administration, only about 6 percent of adults with autism work full-time.) Many lack the skills to live alone. Those who cannot work generally qualify for monthly Social Security disability payments, which are too low to cover vocational coaches, therapeutic day programs, or other interventions that may help an autistic person reach a modicum of self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, the federal government does not require school systems to provide special education for students older than 18 (most states, including Illinois, have extended the requirement through age 21). “If you have a developmental disability like Frank, when you turn 22, you disappear,” says Craven’s mother, Jane Gallery, a 61-year-old Winnetka resident. “You fall off a cliff.”


  1. It is time to END the epidemic of abuse against autistic people! Thankfully, San Diego County District Attorney Office is taking two caregivers to trial after they're caught on tape kicking, punching and eye gouging severely autistic non verbal man. These two sadistic creeps are an illustration of the kind of evil people who have been getting away with abusing the most vulnerable autistic people. These so called caregivers must go to jail if we are to remain a civilized society who protect our most vulnerable autistic citizens. This is the first case of autism abuse to go to trial in san diego county. It's time our society STOPS downplaying and minimizing abuse of autistic people.

  2. Thank you for sharing. It's quite heart-breaking to think of autistic people being abused in the way you are describing. Fortunately that was not the case with my son, but I can sympathize with your outrage. Is this truly an "epidemic" though, I have heard of awful stories regarding elderly care here in Canada, but I have not concerning the disabled... sadly I'm not surprised. Truly awful and sad.

  3. I was one of Pouya's high school teachers. I am so happy to see he is still doing well and working hard. Thumbs Up to you Pouya!