(October 22, 2014) Farmingdale, N.Y. -- Autism Speaks hosted the second in a series of Town Halls on Adult Services focused on housing and community living. The Long Island Chapter of Autism Speaks, led by executive director Christie Godowski, organized the meeting at Farmingdale State College in Farmingdale, NY. Approximately 100 people participated in the Town Hall; adults with autism and their families joined adult service providers, supportive housing developers, government agency representatives and other stakeholders in a dynamic discussion about the challenges and opportunities currently facing this population.
There was a focus on the challenges facing the most severely impacted individuals with autism who require 24/7 care, and the fears of their parents for what the future may hold for their aging children. Discussion also turned to opportunities to leverage the housing opportunities that do exist in the state with affordable, supportive housing, housing tax credits, housing vouchers, housing trust funds and the coordination of integrated services for adults with autism.
Following a resource fair featuring different adult service providers from around Long Island, a panel of experts shared their perspectives on the housing challenge – and proposed some potential solutions. The panelists included: John Lessard, Executive Director of Developmental Disabilities Institute (DDI); Marian Boehm, a parent-advocate; Neil Schweifel, Assistant Executive Director of Life’s WORC; Jodie Fox, a young woman on the autism spectrum; and Michele Lawton, President of Just Adult Care, Inc. (JAC). Jodie shared about the difficulties she has faced maintaining employment and living on her own, and the circle of support on which she relies to live as independently as she chooses. “I definitely feel that after going through this for so many years and only recently finding my own groove – and acceptance for the help [that I need to live independently] – that it really is about finding the right staff person for each individual,” she explained. “Through independent support services, I have become more grounded, more stable, and have been able to venture out into new horizons I never thought possible.”
Dave Kearon, Assistant Director of Adult Services at Autism Speaks, moderated the panel discussion. “As New York develops its Statewide Comprehensive Plan for Services for Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services for people with developmental disabilities, they must hear from the individuals who are directly affected – and that’s you,” he said. “These supports are the ones that address the needs that every adult has: health, housing, employment, social participation, education, financial stability and family well-being. Individuals with autism are valuable members of our community and should have the same independence and self-determination that are fundamental American values all citizens are afforded. It’s about getting you this support when, where and how you need it.”
In addition to John Beyer, Board Chair of the Long Island Chapter of Autism Speaks, the audience also heard from Jacquelyn Best, Director of the NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)’s Long Island Region 5 office. Ms. Best was joined by Will Chou of the OPWDD Developmental Unit and Michelle Giuliano of the Individualized Services Unit.
The town hall participants signed onto the Autism Speaks Champions campaign and committed to engage in local and state advocacy efforts to increase housing options and supports on a grassroots level. As New York develops its Statewide Comprehensive Plan for Services 2014-2018, Autism Speaks feels strongly that the state must hear from the individuals directly affected. Individuals who are waiting for services and individuals currently receiving services must let New York officials know what their needs are and what the state should do to make sure they are as integrated in the community as possible.