“A child with autism grows up to be an adult with autism.” This saying is often repeated in the Autism Treatment Center’s classrooms, staff meetings, and homes. It serves as a stark reminder that some individuals with autism will likely need intensive direct-support services for the rest of their lives.
Few words are more shocking than telling the parents of a child with autism that he or she will probably need lifelong services, including after the parents pass away. And the current estimate is that these services, which include residential support, therapy and day-to-day living expenses, can cost as much as $3.2M over the span of a lifetime. Fortunately, service providers including the Autism Treatment Center are able to provide the necessary programs and services for individuals with autism to live as independently as possible.
The Autism Treatment Center was founded in 1976 to serve families touched by autism. Our Residential Program provides safe and comfortable living arrangements in community-based homes. With Centers in Dallas and San Antonio, ATC is currently home to children and adults from 54 cities across Texas and several surrounding states as far away as California.
ATC owns 20 homes located in well-maintained middle class neighborhoods which provide homes to 75 adults – men and women ages 22 to 65. Our homes look like every other home on the street. Though the financial responsibilities of ownership and maintenance are sometimes tremendous, the Residential Program is a necessary foundation that often establishes a lifetime of self-sufficiency and success. Without this fundamental building block, other gains in behavior, independence and personal well-being would not occur. In addition, ATC provides appropriate in-home support and foster care, and is in the early stages of developing an Independent Living Program for adults who can live independently with limited support.
Each home is staffed with a House Manager and Personal Care Assistants who supervise the activities and goings-on of each house around-the-clock. The minimum staff-to-adult ratio is 1:3. The residents, children and adults with autism, are provided a warm and accepting environment. We often refer to the homes as “teaching homes”, as the residents learn life skills to improve their well-being. Each individual is expected to participate in the upkeep and activities of his/her home and be a contributing member of the household. That means keeping a neat and organized appearance, making beds, doing laundry, shopping, cooking and cleaning. Where a hand is needed, the Personal Care Assistant will provide coaching and support – but the resident is there to develop skills within this structured environment.
Two of our homes – featured this month – are specifically for adults with autism. The first is in San Antonio, where six men have lived for over 15 years. The other home, in Dallas, is home to three men who have lived together for almost 20 years. Some of these adults were children when they entered the program. In fact, some of them are children of the parents who founded ATC as a non-profit organization when autism was a rare and almost unheard of diagnosis.
The adults in these homes have thrived. As they have transitioned into adulthood, they have obtained meaningful work and give back to their community by volunteering at other area non-profit organizations. In addition, they develop social skills through recreational activities, including gardening and community outings to sporting events, parks and movies. They still connect and frequently visit their families, and their families visit them at their home. Parents often tell us their son or daughter is excited to come visit them, but after a day or so they say, “Go back to ATC home.”
With 1 in 88 children now receiving a diagnosis placing them somewhere on the autism spectrum, the need for residential services is at an all-time high. ATC will continue to provide the residential services necessary to build a lifetime of success for those in our care. Experts have long established that early intervention lends itself to greater independence and success throughout an individual’s life.
For children with autism who grow up to be adults with autism, we have learned that a strong residential program is often a good indicator of future achievements and accomplishments. For the children and adults at ATC, the teaching homes are their lifeline to a well-grounded and autonomous life, rooted in ATC’s commitment to assist people with autism and related disorders as they learn, play, work and live in the community.