Autism Grows Up

A production of Capital Public Radio


Aired March 1, 2013 10am and 8pm

Twenty years after a sharp rise in autism rates, thousands of California children are aging out of special education. Each one enters adulthood with a unique combination of social deficits that promises a challenging life, even with support.



Growing Roots and Wings


Roland Ricketts was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. He lives with his parents, whose approach to their son's autism was once controversial. They taught him to modify his self-stimulating behavior to help him become "a functioning member of society". Roland is a man of few words. When he's not working at the California Auto Museum, he likes going to the gym and helping around the house. Roland says he'll move out when he's 35. He's 28 now and says his dad still needs him.

There's No Normal, There's Just Me


Jackie Armstrong is 27. She lives in her own apartment with staff help seven hours a day. Jackie juggles classes at Sierra College while working on an electronic assembly line at PRIDE Industries. She and her boyfriend Danny want to live in the same apartment complex, but not together. Yet.

Echoes, Fragments, Song


Freddie Topete barely speaks. He can't dress himself or brush his teeth. This severely autistic 20 year old transferred into the Sac City Community Transition Program at Sacramento State last fall. Special education programs help expand Freddie's horizons and increase his ability to communicate and socialize. His sister Monica describes him as a "toddler without the tantrums". In two years, he'll age out of school-based services and need to begin again at an Adult Day Care Program.

The Stand-Up Guy


Steve Baxter wasn't diagnosed with autism until his early 40's. Unable to hold a job, he's reliant on government assistance. Steve lived with his mother until her death a few years ago. Now, he lives with a roommate. Steve volunteers regularly at senior and mental health facilities as a stand up comic and game show host. But, he's lonely and looking for a girlfriend. Steve finds acceptance and companionship at Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer.

Naomi's Next Step


Naomi Halm just learned to walk. At age 4, her parents are still waiting for her to talk. Since Jennifer and Chris Halm recognized that their daughter's development was delayed, they've had to cope with the reality that their child is different. She's not the child they expected, but they couldn't love her more. The Halms have a hunch that Naomi may be autistic. After a battery of tests, they find out.

A Positive Purpose


19-year-old Anthony Kouklis' dream job would be working at a video store. Now he works part-time at a coffee shop down the street from The Duplex, an Adult Transition Program he attends each weekday. He describes high school as a violent "nightmare." At The Duplex, he's in "heaven" learning to navigate adulthood: from work and social skills to understanding public transit. For now, he lives at home with his mom. His hobby is making short animations with a camera and computer.
Funding for this documentary provided by:
We Get Support From:
Become a Supporter

Margo and Barry Fallon are special education teachers with the Sacramento City Unified School District. They talk with Capital Public Radio's Beth Ruyak about the challenges that face autistic children transitioning to adult life.
1 in 88
children in the United States have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder.


1-1.5 million
Americans have an autism spectrum disorder.


is the growth rate of autism, the fastest growing developmental disorder in the US.


7-8 fold
is the increase in autism diagnoses in California since 1990.


children were added to California's autism population in the 2010 school year.


California students affected by Autism were added to the population from 2001-2009.


of Californians with autism are adults.


is the age when young people with autism must transition from school-based services into adulthood.


of adults with autism are unemployed.


of adults with autism experience anxiety and depression because of lack of support.


of adults with autism rely on their families for financial support.


of adults with autism will live at home with their parents for life.

We Get Support From:

Become a Supporter