As children with autism become adults with autism, it can often be hard to find a place of their own to live. One woman in Arizona has been tackling the problem for decades, and she’s teamed up with her former university to share the need for such housing.
Arizona State alum Denise Resnik founded the nonprofit First Place AZ, which provides supportive independent and interdependent housing to those with developmental disabilities. She’s now working with ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy on a new report called “A Place in the World: Fueling Housing and Community Options for Adults with Autism and Other Neurodiversities.” Report authors hope the piece explains the need for people with autism to find housing, in language that is relatable for families, investors, real estate developers, nonprofits, and government agencies.
The issue is personal for Resnik, who edited and published the report; her son was diagnosed with autism in 1993. Twenty-five years later, she opened First Place in Phoenix.
She explains, “This incredible body of work came about following what has been a challenging journey of trying to help express what our son needs and what other people need in terms that a marketplace can understand.”
While this residential community is helping many on the spectrum, there is need for so much more. The report notes that there are 7 million people in the United States with an intellectual or developmental disability, and about 75% of them live with family. Among those with autism, almost half live with a relative. In 2017, 1.3 million people with intellectual or developmental disabilities had a caregiver over the age of 60. Most of the people in these populations also lack formal services or supports.
Resnik explains that after her son was diagnosed, she was told to love him and plan to institutionalize him. When she visited institutions, she couldn’t get away fast enough and wanted to create something better. Unfortunately, it was a long journey to do so because real estate and government policy can be tricky. That’s why she’s hoping this study will help break through some of those obstacles. She says there needs to be a variety of options, and the public, private, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors will all need to work together. This will hopefully expand on services available to kids with autism as they grow up.
Resnik explains, “We need more intensive support early in their adult lives after leaving high school. In the past few decades we’ve made tremendous advances in early identification, early intervention and early education. But after they leave high school at the age of 22, they’re faced with a scarcity or disjointed services, and they slide backward. So few resources have been focused on the adults.”
To help better understand what’s needed, First Place also has a leadership institute for professionals, educators, support staff, and medical personnel to train. Doctoral students at ASU conduct research while living and participating in the community. This is in addition to vocational training for residents and a transition academy that helps build life skills.
The report authors have high hopes that similar housing options to First Place will arise.
The report says, “Advancing a new wave of residential and community development is not something any of us can do alone. But we can get it done together… Individuals with autism and other intellectual/developmental disabilities and their families can recognize that a diagnosis need not stand in the way of friends, jobs, supportive communities, and homes of their own.”
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