Massachusetts author and mom Susan Senator has released her third book offering insight and encouragement to individuals with autism and their families. Autism Adulthood provides readers with a close-up look of her experience of helping her son, Nat, transition to adulthood.
“I wanted to write the book because when I first started trying to find out what to do for his adulthood he was 17. I couldn’t find any answers,” she said. “The adult services system had not kicked in yet. The school system was not very helpful. Now I know that is not the way it should go. Planning for transition should begin earlier. You can’t wait for the state agency to get it started. It is just the way it is.”
Not only does Autism Adulthood share Senator’s personal and often emotionally raw details of her research into housing, employment, social skills, and support solutions, it also includes interviews with many adults with autism, their parents, caregivers, researchers, and professionals. Nat was only a couple of years into adulthood when Senator was writing the book, so she knew it was important to interview many who have been through this life phase first. Each chapter ends with a list of resources, including books, agencies, websites, and support groups. With all of these voices and resources, Senator’s underlying message to parents is one of encouragement.
“I would say they are not alone and, therefore, can take actions that can help them realize that. In other words, the first thing they can do is find their community,” she said. “Knowing you have these other families, that feels good and, more importantly, you learn from each other. Community helps in so many ways. Keep in mind further down the line, these people might be your ‘in-laws’ because your kids might live together.”
Senator has shared her journey as a parent of a child with autism throughout her son’s life. Her previous books, Making Peace with Autism and The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide, covered her son’s earlier stages in life, with some material originating from her journals when Nat was born and later diagnosed with autism. With Autism Adulthood, the journey continues.
Senator gives talks to parent groups based on the community concept and encourages people to get involved with programs where they can meet other people. Programs such as Special Olympics, even if your child doesn’t choose to join a team, can provide opportunities to meet new friends and cultivate relationships.
Senator encountered good and bad surprises when researching her son’s planning and in writing the book. For example, she was impressed by the number of cottage industries, started mostly by parents and their loved one with autism. These small businesses are providing ways for adults with autism to support themselves or earn spending money so they are not attending traditional day programs.
“There is a lot of creativity going into these businesses,” she noted. “State agencies are typically supportive of these approaches because they fit under the self-directed funding model, where the individual and family decides how to spend the support funds.”
Senator also learned how difficult it can be to find good caregivers. Fortunately, she and her husband found a wonderful caregiver for Nat.
Today, Nat is doing well. He lives in an apartment with a roommate caregiver during the week. This approach is more of the ideal Senator envisioned; it is a more independent setting and more inclusive than a group home. Nat has even gone on a vacation with his roommate; they spent a week together in the Dominican Republic. Nat has a job at a grocery store collecting shopping carts, which she believes is perfect for him because he gets to walk outside and put things away.
“I feel like he has a good life. I feel like people could learn from him. I tried to have him be a voice in this story as much as possible,” Senator said.
Indeed, his voice is clear in the last pages: “Feel happy love nat.”
While Senator’s books are about autism, they are also relevant for parents of children with any intellectual or developmental challenges. The opportunities available for these children and young adults are being
influenced by the hard work and commitment of parents who are determined to create a good life for their child.
“There is so much more uniting us than separating out,” Senator noted. “I came across a great example of a dad who is creative and came up with an amazing business for his son, and maybe many others, teaching hotel services in Indianapolis. And his son has Down syndrome.”
Autism Adulthood is published by Skyhorse Publishing and is available through Amazon. Read more about Senator at susansenator.com.