Autism: Life on the Spectrum

One in 36 children is autistic. Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability characterized by communication, social, and behavioral challenges.  

In this special report, FOX 5 NY takes a closer look at what life is like today with this developmental disability.

Going barefoot

Have you ever considered going to the Guggenheim Museum barefoot? Most people probably didn't, but the Barefoot Autism Challenge might change your perspective. 

In New York City alone, there are an estimated 7,000 children with autism who are currently receiving services, according to the New York State Department of Health. However, many more remain undiagnosed or underserved.

Tyler Leech, who is autistic, started the challenge in 2017 to help educate the public about sensory sensitivities most people on the spectrum experience. 

"It can even make things like shoes and socks feel constricting," Leech explains.

FULL STORY: 'Barefoot Autism Challenge' raising awareness at NYC's Guggenheim Museum

Pop culture

We've seen shows like "A-Typical" and the movie "Rain Man" feature autistic characters played by neurotypical actors. But as Ryan Kristafer shows, we’re seeing more representation in movies and TV for people living on the spectrum.

Dani Bowman is a talented animator and star of "Love on the Spectrum" on Netflix.

"We on the autism spectrum all have needs and wants," Bowman said. "We’re not like Rain Man or anything like that. We are different."

FULL STORY: Autism in pop culture: Behind and in front of the camera

Education with a focus

For some families, keeping their autistic child at home is just not possible. Many need specialized care, like Jackie and Andy Mandel’s son Jonathan.

When Jonathan turned 14, his parents made the difficult decision to move him 180 miles away from his home in Port Washington, Long Island so he could live in the Anderson Center’s residential facility.

"I was in tears in the car," Jackie recalled. "It was very difficult. That was the first time he was ever away from us for one night, ever. We had never left him at all.  He had never been away from us. It was very difficult." 

FULL STORY: This NY school helps students with autism become more independent

Direct support professional shortage

The bond between 27-year-old Dylan Snaith, who's non-verbal autistic, and Courtney, his direct support professional (DSP), didn't happen overnight. It took years of trust, dedication and love. But relationships like these are on the verge of disappearing.

Advocates say wages within the DSP field are disproportionately low, and while the minimum wage was increased nationally, New York state has yet to catch up.

"A lot of us have two, three jobs," Courtney told FOX 5 New York. "I know myself worked two jobs for the past 10 years just to make, you know, make ends meet."

FULL STORY: Advocates warn of direct support professional shortage amid low wages

Autism in the workforce

Ryngin Garcia has been working at the Shake Shack in the Meatpacking District for just about a year.

In Midtown, Piankhi Wade is doing an internship with Lloyds Bank. The 28-year-old has a bachelor's degree in computer science and his job is to troubleshoot problems with the bank's computers.

Both of these young men are thriving at work and they are both autistic.

FULL STORY: Employees with autism find life-changing jobs at New York businesses