Newswise — Even though autism diagnoses were first introduced over 75 years ago, many people still associate the condition with young children. But autism is aging. Experts estimate that approximately 50,000 individuals with autism enter adulthood each year. And with their entrance to adulthood, they lose access to many services they’ve come to rely on for support.

At the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support at Saint Joseph’s University, adult services constitute 57% percent of their program offerings, a number that’s been steadily growing for the last four years.

“As the Kinney Center established itself as a trusted resource for the Greater Philadelphia autism community, we quickly learned that there were gaps in services,” says Executive Director Ryan Hammond. “Initially we were compelled to respond to the growing number of diagnoses, now one in 68 children. We’re now sharing that focus with the teen and adult population, who may need our services most of all.”

The Kinney Center’s flagship ASPIRE program, now in it’s fourth year, is a college support program for individuals with ASD. The program has become a model for other colleges and universities.

The end of high school for many on the autism spectrum is just that, an ending. Having aged out of the school system’s support for students with autism, these teens find few programs that provide the support they need for advanced education, social and life skills, and employment. ASPIRE affords young adults a right of passage from which they’re often excluded because of the challenges social interaction and independent living can pose for them.

“ASPIRE helps students with autism jump the hurdles that college life may present,” explains Hammond. “The program offers support in every aspect of campus life, from the classroom to the residence hall and beyond.”

This May, the first cohort of ASPIRE students will graduate with a degree from Saint Joseph’s University. One has accepted a fellowship from Princeton University in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science.

But the Kinney Center doesn’t stop with college support. Life and social skills programs are also available for adults on the spectrum that focus on increasing independence in areas such as money management, meal preparation and food management, personal hygiene and health, housekeeping and emergency and safety skills. The Kinney Center houses a kitchen and basic appliances like a washer and dryer for participants to use.

The Kinney Center has become a destination for young adults who want to experience college life on campus with same aged peers who serve as mentors and models helping them make significant progress in their development.

“The goal is confidence and independence,” says Hammond. “Individuals with autism have so much to achieve and contribute. New situations can cause regression and anxiety, so support needs to span the life cycle.”