Why are there fewer audition opportunities for my daughter Samantha this year? According to her acting coach, Samantha is aging out. Every year more aspiring actors graduate from college. Those recent graduates—with and without disabilities—are competing with Samantha and pushing her out of contention for younger roles.
While I can no longer call my daughter a “young adult,” Samantha is hardly a senior citizen at age 32. With her baby face and slimmed down physique, my daughter can easily play characters who are 10 – 15 years younger than her chronological age. But recently—if she’s lucky enough to be cast at all—Samantha has mostly played older characters in supporting roles: the mother or nanny, rather than the daughter or love interest.
As an autism mom, I too am aging out. I’m grateful for my continued good health, but I can’t help noticing how exhausted I feel after a day of helping Samantha navigate her life and career. (Maybe I’m still suffering from post-Covid fatigue and those two lost years when everything live shut down and everyone was isolated and tethered to Zoom?)
Every day, I hear the clock ticking louder and more insistently. I will not live long enough to teach Samantha everything she needs to live her best life independently, unless I can find a dedicated life skills coach. But life skills coaches have been nearly impossible to find and they never last longer than a year. Instead of spending months searching for someone appropriate, waiting for the person to get trained for 22 hours and then fingerprinted, I am doing the work every Friday that the coach used to do. Not the best arrangement, but a whole lot better than doing nothing or waiting to find someone else. Been there, done that. One way or another, I’m more motivated (and I can accomplish more in two hours with my daughter) than someone who takes the job as a stopgap before moving forward with their own career.
Nowadays, everything seems like more of a struggle and takes longer than ever. Is it my imagination or are human connection and compassion being replaced by anger, divisiveness and (now) chat bots?
I can’t allow myself to become too discouraged. I want Samantha to believe in herself and her talent and audition for everything she can. Onwards and upwards, one tiny step at time….
I almost didn’t have the energy to write about aging out. It’s old news (no pun intended) that no one ever thinks they’ll grow old—especially when they are healthy and still mentally sharp. In other cultures, older people are respected for their wisdom. Not here in America (despite recent septuagenarian presidents).
So, what inspires me to keep tapping my computer keyboard? April is Autism Acceptance Month, which I suppose is an improvement over Autism Awareness month, as it used to be called. To me, autism awareness means that people on the spectrum are no longer ignored or invisible but must be seen and reckoned with (at least for a month). The new term—”autism acceptance”—suggests a more active and respectful awareness, demanding accommodation and inclusion. Yet, for most autism families, our adult kids are still not breaking through glass ceilings or even walls when it comes to employment. Today, over 85% of autistic adults remain unemployed or under-employed. Awareness and acceptance are steps forward, but the process is so slow I doubt that meaningful benefits will come in time for my daughter—especially if we only focus on autism in April.
When Samantha was born in 1990, only 1 in 250 babies were born with autism. Now that number has mushroomed exponentially into 1 in 36. Thanks to the growing number of people with autism, the neurotypical world is beginning to acknowledge neurodiversity. But it is not enough to be aware of autism. Society must also come to fully understand and even appreciate people on the spectrum. This means society must actively work to accommodate, value, include and integrate autistic individuals in the neurotypical world (which needs all the help it can get in solving the world’s global problems).
I could go on and on, but that would be wasting time. Samantha and I must push forward. We don’t have the luxury of waiting until next April.