OGDEN -- Jordan Wilde has a job he adores at Ridley's Family Market in Morgan.
"He likes putting stock away," said his proud mom, Dana Wilde. "He's funny. He will count how many boxes he loads, how many cans of beans. It's a good fit for him, but it's difficult because it's just part-time, and there's a lot of time that he's not at work."
Jordan, 22, is a high-functioning autistic adult. He has aged out of the services he received as a public school student but needs continued support to be effective at a job he can handle and to live a productive life.
Dana Wilde spoke at a recent gathering at Weber State University sponsored by the Ogden group FAAST, Families of Autism and Aspergers Standing Together. A panel discussion and screening of the PBS program "Autism: Coming of Age" was attended by about 140 people.
"There are going to be more and more adults with autism, now that there seems to be an epidemic with children," said Wilde, a Morgan Middle School teacher. "The numbers are getting bigger, which is why we need money for research, and maybe money for job coaching and a support system between employers and autistic people."
About 80 percent of adults with autism live with their parents, according to Lisa Cohne of the Utah Education Network.
The event's focus was the need for support of autistic adults who will have to function for years in a world they don't totally understand after their parent/caregivers become elderly and pass away.
As many as one in 47 Utah 8-year-olds has an autism spectrum disorder, according to a study released this week, the highest rate in the nation. The national average is one in 88 children having autism or a related disorder.
The increased national rate is widely attributed to better screening. The study also found that autism is nearly five times more common in boys.
Autism is a brain disorder that primarily affects communication, social skills and behaviors, according to an explanation from the Autism Council of Utah, http://autismcouncilofutah.org. Sometimes kids with autism also have repetitive language, or hand flapping, twirling or rocking. Many people with autism have little or no eye contact and seem to be uninterested in relationships. Some people with autism do not speak.
James Vaughan, of Ogden, founded FAAST about a year ago. His son Kian, 11, is on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum.
"Kian functions as well as anybody could with autism," Vaughan said. "His biggest challenges are social interaction with his peers, and delayed speech. He spoke at age 4. Intellectually, he is very much on par with his peers, and a bit above them in some areas. But he's a sixth grader, and he would rather hang out with first- and second-graders."
Vaughan founded FAAST after his son's autism diagnosis.
"The psychiatrist we were working with gave us very little hope of funding support in our community, here in Ogden," Vaughan said. "Knowing how important support is for us and anyone dealing with autism, we started the group."
Fourteen months later, FAAST has about 300 members and 2,644 Facebook followers from around the world.
"We hear from parents in Egypt and Sweden, Ireland, China and Australia," Vaughan said.
FAAST hosted the screening of "Autism: Coming of Age," which told the story of three autistic adults and their families.
One family had a son who was fascinated with vacuuming from early childhood. With occasional coaching, he was able to maintain a housekeeping job at his local Marriott Hotel, and was one of the hardest-working staffers. The money he brought in more than paid for the coaching he received, and the young man was able to enjoy his life and contribute to society.
The Autism Society (www.autism-society.org) estimates that the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism ranges from $3.5 million to $5 million.
And some lower-functioning autism patients are unable to work. But for those who can work with minimal coaching, a better life is available at a lower cost to society.
"There are a lot of jobs people with autism could do, with support, based on their skill sets," Vaughan said. "With support and coaching, they can become contributors to the system that helps pay for the services they receive. If the numbers are increasing, we need research to find out why. We need to prepare now for what is ahead."