This is a blog post by Leslie Long, Autism Speaks Director of Adult Services. Leslie was present for the opening of Airmount Woods, a new nine-unit housing complex in New Jersey that is the first in the state to be specifically designed as a residence for adults with autism.
On Friday, I had the privilege of attending a ribbon cutting ceremony for two houses that were specifically built for eight adults with autism. Walking up to the homes at Airmount Woods in Ramsey, New Jersey, I was so excited to finally see the culmination of several years of work on the part of a group of dedicated and amazing community members to bring men and women with autism home, their own home. I had been at a conference room in a United Way building when this was just a vision for community members who wanted people who were born in their community to live there as adults. Now, I was approaching the newly constructed houses that will be home to eight men and woman from North Jersey. The trees surrounding the area welcome you to a neighborhood that could be anywhere in the U.S. but watching the faces of the families that were proudly showing the homes was a unique and inspiring experience.
This is because for adults with autism and their families, Airmount Woods seemed an impossible goal. Was it possible to have a house in the heart of a suburban community that was developed with all the collaborators, including the architect, the developer and the service provider, having the individual’s specific needs as their North Star? In fact, most of the same adults that will be moving in to the two new homes had to leave the state to get the supports that they needed. And with a waiting list for Medicaid Home and Community-based Waiver supports in New Jersey estimated at over 8,000 people with developmental disabilities, Airmount Woods seemed out of reach. Thanks to the tenacity of collaborators who refused to believe you couldn’t bring adults with autism close to home, a unique partnership of community organizations like the United Way of Bergen County, New Horizons in Autism and Madeline Corporation, along with a creative mayor, architect and determined parents, Airmount Woods was created. This partnership can and should be replicated across the country as we see a generation of adolescents and adults with autism and developmental disabilities face life without any plan for a long-term home.
Airmount Woods will be staffed around the clock by personnel from New Horizons in Autism. “The physical home at Airmount Woods is perfectly designed for people with autism to live with dignity in a home that supports their unique needs and challenges,” said Michele Goodman, Executive Director of New Horizons.
As we face waiting lists in almost every state in the country, with some estimates at over 25,000 in states like Texas and over 265,000 nationally, there is no excuse for why we are not planning more development of housing and residential supports in collaboration with all of our community partners. We need many more creative housing options like the one in Ramsey, New Jersey. For the eight men and women that will move into their new home in November, this could not have come any sooner. Most of the residents of this home will be moving back to the state where their family lives so welcome home! To read more about Airmount Woods in the Bergen Record, click here.
Autism Speaks has created a Housing and Residential Supports web portal on our website to provide resources and information to families and adults in the autism community related to housing, including a tool kit and a catalog of housing options around the country! Click here to visit the portal.