Autism, the Road to Adulthood and COVID-19


with Dr. Valerie Paradiz of Autism Speaks


Apr 01, 2021

For young adults on the autism spectrum, the transition to adulthood can pose unique challenges.

Dr. Valerie Paradiz, Vice President of Services and Supports at Autism Speaks, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share how COVID-19 restrictions can impact milestones for people with autism.

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: The road to adulthood officially begins for many when they graduate from high school or move on to college or that first job, but for some young people, the journey to independence can look a little bit different. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. The transition to adulthood is challenging for young adults on the autism spectrum because change can be very difficult and the challenges are further exacerbated by COVID-19 restrictions. Joining me to talk about all of this is Dr. Valerie Paradiz. She is the vice president of services and supports at Autism Speaks. And Dr. Paradiz, thanks for joining us.

Paradiz: It's great to be here. Thank you.

Anderson: So let's start with your personal story. This is very personal for you. Autism diagnosis. I know that you said that if it wasn't for a specialist that you ended up seeing a little bit later in life, you would have continued to bumble along in your life. Those are your words, moving from therapist to therapist, treating what you thought was depression. What was it that exactly brought you to the point where you realized you were dealing with something very different?

Paradiz: Well, I have my son to thank for that. My son, like me, is also autistic. And he was diagnosed very young in life, when he was three years old, and because I became part of what we call the autism community swiftly, through his experiences and needs, I began to learn more that not only was I experiencing depression and in treatment for that since I had been a child, but that really what needed addressing were my autistic tendencies and that I needed to find support that way. And I was diagnosed quite late in life as a woman. And that's quite common for women and girls to be diagnosed later. But once I also had the diagnosis of autism, I was able to then address more core issues that needed attention, that had nothing to do with depression, had more to do with my communication differences, my sensory differences, as well as some social differences that I had growing up as a child and still today.

Anderson: So you talk about what was going on in your early life versus what you learned in your adult life, and that is that transition from childhood to adulthood. That's something that Autism Speaks is very keen on raising awareness about. So what does that transition look like when it's going in the right direction, when it's going in proven ways? I mean, what's happening between those who are living with autism, their families, their school communities in many instances at the state level; what's that coordinated dance look like?

Paradiz: When it's being done well, it's coordinated well in advance before someone ages out of high school, and that the plan is carried out and begins to be carried out before one leaves high school, all the way through leaving high school and on, and integrating a number of things, indeed -- state based services, SSI, if the person qualifies for SSI, and then also voc rehab -- vocational rehabilitation services. And then also the person with autism should have an understanding of how to advocate for themselves. And that's something schools can do before a person even ages out.

Anderson: So all of this very coordinated, how has COVID-19 changed that?

Paradiz: One thing we're very concerned about in the autism community is education, and education recovery, following COVID. We do know that many students with autism who have what we call individual education plans in school were not able to receive those services, which are entitlements, during COVID. And so we are seeing some regression in learning, some regression also in behavioral abilities and things that autistic individuals need support in, in order to navigate life socially and within their own communication modes, whether that's through speech or not through speech, through a tablet, through other forms of communication. And so when you see such a long, extended period of time where one isn't getting those services in school, we're also expecting some real challenges transitioning back out of that. The other arena where we're seeing some concerns is in employment.

Anderson: Dr. Paradiz, there's a lot to know, a lot to learn -- if people want to find out more, what's your website?

Paradiz: We are at We have 24/7 resources there available for people experiencing autism across the spectrum, as well as their family members, and throughout the life span.

Anderson: Dr. Valerie Paradiz, thank you so much for being here.

Paradiz: My pleasure. Thank you.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching -- as always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, log on to I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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