Public Television Documentary Highlights Crisis for Adults with Autism

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“Autism: Coming of Age” is a film produced by award-winning filmmaker Catherine Sager for Springfield, Ma public television station WGBY, and sponsored by the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual).

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Autism is not a disability that stops when someone turns 22. Parents… need to realize that they won’t live forever and their children will outlive them. What happens then?

Over the next 10 to 15 years, an estimated 800,000 children with autism will age out of their school systems and look to state and federal governments for support services and resources to meet their many needs.

That statistic is among several staggering facts detailed in “Autism: Coming of Age,” a film produced by award-winning filmmaker Catherine Sager for Springfield, Ma public television station WGBY, and sponsored by the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual).

“Autism: Coming of Age” begins airing this month on local PBS affiliates across the country through the rest of the year. (Call your local PBS station about air dates or check MassMutual’s Facebook page for listings –    

The hour-long documentary provides an inside look at the lives of three adults with autism and their families. “Autism: Coming of Age” includes expert commentary from advocates and state government officials who detail the long-term challenges of providing quality care to adults with autism.

“The adults with autism featured in the program are so lovable: they have the same hopes and dreams that we have. You can’t help but care what happens to them,” said Sager.

Nearly 1 million Americans between the ages of 0 and 21 are believed to have Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to 2009 statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The lifetime cost to care for an individual with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is $3.2 million, according to research published in the “Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (2007).”

Peter Gerhardt, a nationally known autism expert, and Patricia Wright, National Director of Autism Services for Easter Seals, say in the film that the limited federal and state benefits systems may not be prepared to deal with the hundreds of thousands of adults with autism.

The film, through the lives of three families, delves into the broad range of abilities a person diagnosed with autism may have, underscoring there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to supportive care in the future.

“Autism: Coming of Age” highlights the hopes and dreams three young men have for their future and their parents’ struggle and passion to help them achieve it:

  •     Dan Ryan is learning how to be as independent as possible as an adult. While he has made great progress, banking and going food shopping, he still believes in the power of super heroes.
  •     Doug Murray works in a Boston hotel doing light maintenance and vacuuming - a passion since childhood. Most days, Doug is up at 5:30 a.m., takes two buses to work, and always arrives an hour early to say hello to all his friends. He continues to live at home but wants a family and home of his own, his father explains in the film.
  •     Tomas Espinosa, whose diagnosis places him on the autism spectrum with an intellectual disability, is also non-verbal. He lives in his own home with 24/7 care. He has a roommate, loves to roller skate, play baseball and spend time with his family.

Nearly three quarters of families living with autism and other disabilities are worried about their child’s financial future, but most have done little to plan for when their child with a disability becomes an adult, according to recent studies funded by MassMutual for Easter Seals. (The 2008 and 2010 studies, “Living with Autism Study” and “Living with Disabilities Study” are available at

“Our field of financial professionals has experienced the mounting challenges faced by families at the planning table as their children with special needs become adults,” said John Chandler, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, MassMutual. “We sponsored this important film because we understand from them (families) how important it is to give voice to this issue.”

Separately, MassMutual also developed the Chartered Special Needs ConsultantTM (CSNC) designation, launched in conjunction with The American College, to better prepare their financial professionals to help families with special needs.

William Van Evera, a MassMutual Special Care planner in Albany, NY and himself, a parent of a child with special needs, said there are things parents can do to help create a stronger plan for their child in adulthood. SpecialCareSM is a program exclusive to MassMutual that provides access to information, specialists and financial products and services.

“Families can begin to plan for their child by starting a discussion about what they would like to see happen in their child’s future,” said Van Evera.

The following questions Evera suggests as guidelines to help families get a dialogue going.

  •     Do you know who will care for your child with special needs when you are no longer able to?
  •     Are you certain that the planning you may have already done won't "unintentionally disqualify" your child with special needs from receiving government benefits?
  •     Have you determined whether or not a supplemental needs trust will be appropriate for your child with special needs, and if yes, have you determined how it will be funded?
  •     Are you concerned that the future cost of "special care" for your child with special needs may negatively impact your own lifestyle during your retirement years?
  •     Do you have a written plan in place that specifies how your child with special needs is ultimately to be cared for?

As Karolyn Ryan reminds viewers with her and her family’s story in “Autism: Coming of Age”: “Autism is not a disability that stops when someone turns 22. Parents… need to realize that they won’t live forever and their children will outlive them. What happens then?”

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About MassMutual

Founded in 1851, MassMutual is a leading mutual life insurance company that is run for the benefit of its members and participating policyholders. The company has a long history of financial strength and strong performance, and although dividends are not guaranteed, MassMutual has paid dividends to eligible participating policyholders every year since the 1860s. With whole life insurance as its foundation, MassMutual provides products to help meet the financial needs of clients, such as life insurance, disability income insurance, long term care insurance, retirement/401(k) plan services, and annuities. In addition, the company’s strong and growing network of financial professionals helps clients make good financial decisions for the long-term.

MassMutual Financial Group is a marketing name for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) and its affiliated companies and sales representatives. MassMutual is headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts and its major affiliates include: Babson Capital Management LLC; Baring Asset Management Limited; Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers LLC; The First Mercantile Trust Company; MassMutual International LLC; MML Investors Services, LLC, member FINRA and SIPC; OppenheimerFunds, Inc.; and The MassMutual Trust Company, FSB.

Patty Norris Lubold
(413) 744-6957

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