Editor's Note: We are sharing Denise Resnik's powerful blog about a new housing model for adults with disabilities. Denise's blog originally appeared on Home Matters.
Thankfully, much has changed since we were told to plan to institutionalize our son Matt 23 years ago when he was doagnosed with autism-–and yet, much still needs to change to respond to the housing demand at our doorstep.
Matt represents a generation of more than 500,000 U.S. children with autism entering adulthood this decade. In many ways, I’ve been planning for what happens when the school bus stops coming almost from the first day it arrived. Where will he live? How will he be safe? How can we be sure he’ll be happy, healthy, productive and not sliding backwards?
The reason for my focus? Fear. Yes, this is what I have feared the most for Matt and for so many of our transitioning adolescents and adults. Fear that someone who doesn’t know them will be making decisions about their critical transitions and their futures. Fear that our options will be limited and not right for our loved ones. Fear that we will not be here to help them transition to homes away from our family homes and to a place where they can build their adult lives, continue to learn, make friends and contribute to the very community that supports them.
Enormous challenges like this one cannot be addressed alone. We must work together to create new and more innovative options bringing together all sectors—public, private and charitable.
Through the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) and groundwork by extraordinary leaders from charitable groups, private industry and all levels of government, Greater Phoenix has created a supportive community unlike any other, setting the stage for what comes next: new residential options and safe, nurturing communities to call home.
During the past 16 years, SARRC, Arizona State University, the Urban Land Institute, Arizona Department of Housing and many of the most respected trail blazers in real estate have studied 100 existing residential options across the country, involved more than 100 local family members and individuals with autism in focus groups, co-hosted a national town hall that included 16 cities and evaluated new and creative approaches with leaders from all sectors across the country. Here’s what we’ve learned:
We cannot build homes for 3 or 4 people at a time and accommodate effectively for the 50,000 children with autism entering adulthood annually, in addition to affected adults aging into mid and later life.
We must take full advantage of new and significant advances in technology and design, and a generation of children with autism empowered by early intervention.
We must also separate the supportive services from the real estate ownership to maximize choice for residents, allowing them to select service providers that best meet their needs today and as they change over time.
We cannot rely exclusively on government with its dwindling resources.
We need more choices. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Based on our findings, First Place AZ™ was established in 2012 to develop solutions that disrupt the current housing and services picture. As an independent sister nonprofit to SARRC, First Place is focused on community and property development with the mission of empowering people with autism and other special abilities to thrive, through homes, jobs, friends, lifelong learning and a supportive community.
Click here to read more about First Place AZ.
Denise Resnik is the founder and board chair of First Place AZ, a nonprofit dedicated to developing new housing options for adults with autism and related disorders. She is the mother of a 22-year-old son with autism.