As the national series continues, the tenth Adult Services Town Halls focused on Housing and Residential Services was held at Kennesaw State University Friday evening, cosponsored by the Autism Foundation of Georgia and the Autism Society of Georgia. Just shy of two hundred residents from the metro Atlanta area and beyond came together to discuss the crucial issues faced by adults with autism. Attendees included self-advocates, local autism service providers, families, medical professionals, students, and other members of the community – all understanding the need to work together to create viable housing solutions for our loved ones with autism.
The Resource Fair kicked off the Town Hall and featured over a dozen local autism service providers, including Autism Speaks grant recipients, local therapy providers, housing and residential providers, support groups and more. Attendees filled the space receiving pertinent information and networking with local providers and other attendees. Additionally, all attendees received Autism Speaks’ Housing and Residential Supports Tool Kit and state-specific information about housing services.
Following the Resource Fair, attendees filed into the auditorium to hear from experts and learn more about the process of obtaining housing and residential supports for adults with autism. The program was moderated by Susan Kizer, Academic Advisor for Kennesaw State’s Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth, a two-time Brian and Patricia Kelly Postsecondary Scholarship Fund recipient. During her video introduction, WelStar College of Health and Human Sciences Interim Dean Nandan expressed her appreciation for those working to serve individuals with autism, because “the right kind of support, commitment, and a lot of patience can make a monumental difference” for those impacted by an autism diagnosis, including families and affected individuals.
The moderated panel discussion featured self-advocate, Miyah Sundermayer, who has dealt with her own housing struggles, but now owns her own condo and holds a fulltime job; Rena Harris, Director of Developmental Disabilities Services at the Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta; Kelli Salyer, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Just People, Inc.; and Carolyn Tully, Director of the Autism Spectrum Disorders program at Laurel Heights Hospital. The panel focused heavily on specifics in preparing for the search for necessary housing and residential supports, providing practical advice for families. Rena Harris stressed to parents wondering when to begin looking for services that “the when is yesterday;” Kelli Salyer encouraged parents to “be honest, very very honest” when talking to residential providers; and Carolyn Tully expressed the importance of “building a team around you” throughout the whole process. Miyah spoke very freely about the struggles she encountered along the way, including sharing her internal struggles during an experience with roommates, stating “I was afraid to tell my roommates and others around me that I was autistic.” After the panel discussion, attendees were then able to ask their own questions of the experts, asking specific questions related to local services, as well as how to navigate the confusing waters of Medicaid and what the changes in the system will mean to individual families.
The evening closed with a discussion about the future of the Medicaid waiver program for Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) as well as information about the recently passed ABLE Act and how both will directly impact families. All attendees were encouraged to sign-up for Autism Votes to stay up-to-date on all advocacy efforts, including the HCBS waivers and autism insurance reform, in both Georgia and on a federal level, reminding attendees that we must be committed to working together to support our loved ones with autism and ensure they have supports throughout the lifespan.