Why we’re reporting on the challenges autistic adults face

The great majority of adults with the little-understood condition are unemployed or underemployed, and lack a romantic partner or spouse.

“As Gus ages into adulthood, the list of his challenges that worry me grows longer,” Judith Newman writes of her autistic 18-year-old son. “But the two questions that keep me up at night are: Will he find love, and will he find work that means something to him and allows him to at least partially support himself?”

Love and work. Sigmund Freud considered them the cornerstones of our humanity, and they’re the ways most of us come to define our adult lives. Yet as Newman writes in this issue, finding love and work are huge challenges for people with autism spectrum disorder. Some eight in 10 are thought to be under- or unemployed—and about the same number indicate that they’d like a romantic partner. Many don’t have one.

Because the number of people with autism is growing, we asked Newman and photographer Lynn Johnson to shine a light on this little-understood condition. And because much has been written about autistic children, we asked them to focus on autistic adults. As Newman puts it, “I think a great deal about what it will take to make my son independent. Some days, it’s all I think about. I’m not alone. If there are more than an estimated four million autistic people in the U.S., there are surely a great deal more than four million neurotypical people who love them.”

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