The Importance of Academics vs. Social Skills
I believe that school systems have made a great deal of progress in how they work with students on the ASD spectrum over the last decade. However, there is still a very long way to go in terms of understanding what we need to focus on in the classroom environment for not only our ASD students but all students. While academic ability has always been highly valued in our society, the fact is that it accounts for very little in terms of success for the future. We live in a social world and social skills are essential to navigating that world.
Everything we do requires interaction with others. If we don't have the ability to communicate with the world in some way, we suffer. It doesn't matter how much math or science you know, if you can't communicate your talents and abilities to the world in some way you are isolated. Communication and interaction are paramount, yet school systems continually ignore this obvious fact. Even when schools do relent and offer social skills classes I am often disappointed with the lack of complexity these classes employ.
In college, academic ability is not the number one predictor of success. The number one predictor of success in college is the ability to ask for help when you need it. I have many clients who did excellent academically in high school and once they entered college they became so overwhelmed with the social demands that they became paralyzed and failed out. High school does not prepare our young adults for the rigorous social demands of the real world. ASD students master the school environment for 13 or so years and are then thrust into a completely new societal structure with little to no social preparation. Many neuro-typical students face the same culture shock but may come off as a bit more resilient to it than those on the spectrum.
The solution is simple, create and engage social programs into all schools for all students that are diverse, complex and cover the social, cultural, and communicative needs of an individual who ventures into the real world whether it be college, the job world, or some other life adventure. If the school systems don't add this much needed service soon I'm afraid far too many students will fall through the cracks when just about all of them are capable of succeeding and far exceeding our expectations.