Statistics can be unsettling, but also a way to mobilize. According to Montana ASA, at least 80% of autistic adults between the ages of 18 and 30 live with their parents. The unemployment rate of autistic adults is 81%. In the next ten years, around 500,000 children with autism will become adults. Thousands have been on waiting lists for services for many years.
So what does their future look like? Is there hope that adults with the varying challenges of autism can live on their own, work, and experience human community, versus living out lives marked by alienation? While the solutions are complicated there is positive progress in many areas. Three organizations in the USA are making “community-based care” a reality.
Sweetwater Spectrum has paved the way in making this hope become a reality for autistic adults. Conceived by parents of children with autism, along with experts on autism, Sweetwater Spectrum is a non-profit residential community that was built with the intent of giving autistic adults an opportunity to discover their own paths in life as they live, grow, and flourish within an environment suited to their particular needs.
The Sweetwater board of directors enlisted Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (LMS) to design the housing unit with the needs of its resident as the basis for material selection and layout decisions. LMS constructed a “nesting pattern” that allows a resident to ease into a social situation, and on a larger scale, to ease into the community beyond Sweetwater. Sweetwater Spectrum is not the only model designed to build up a productive community among adults with autism.
Inspired by the success that working on a farm has had on her autistic adult son, Catherine Pinto, along with a board of 8 parents and professionals, formed a non-profit organization in 2011 to organize farm-related employment and permanent living in Kalamazoo, MI. AACORN stands for, Autism Agricultural Community Option for Residential Needs Farm (AACORN Farm), has since received 501c3 status as tax-exempt in June 2013, which permits them to receive monetary and land donations, as well as grants. AACORN belongs to AC-AA, Agricultural Communities for Adults with Autism (ACAA), a consortium of existing and in-formation organizations focused on sharing best practices and advocating for holistic, agricultural based employment and housing models for adults with autism.
The mission of AACORN Farm is to “provide a dynamic residential and vocational program for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder in an agricultural community that supports individuals in reaching their full potential through meaningful interactions, work, and leisure activities.”
Some have criticized farm-based communities as too segregated, but AACORN Farm upholds that an agricultural setting is ideal for individuals with autism, since it is a low key environment with ample opportunity to learn, make a living, and interact with other autistic adults and people in the surrounding community.
Triform Camphill Community in New York was built on a similar model of community among autistic adults with the cultivation of independence and interdependence, but different in that adults on the autism spectrum live there for a time as students, then graduate. But even these transition communities have their place. Graduates from Triform Camphill Community can seek to live at places like Richmond House in VA. Another non-profit organization, Richmond House offers housing, structure and support, and a lively social environment specifically for adults with autism.
It is clear to everyone that there could be and should be more of these residential communities. Unfortunately, funding is always an issue and there the issue of how to define “community-based care. ” In the current US legislation it remains open to interpretation.
The Agricultural Communities for Adults with Autism (ACAA) is dedicated to advancing options for adults with autism. According to the ac-aa organization, creating a residential community is “difficult but not impossible.”
Correction: AACORN Farm does not oversee other organizations in formation as previously reported. The ac-aa organization is a consortium of groups who are working to create farm based options all over the USA of which there are at least 35 existing and planned community farmstead living options for adults with autism.