Autism Speaks’ national series of Adult Services Town Halls on housing, residential supports and community living continued last night in Worcester, Massachusetts. Individuals with autism, families, advocates and professionals in the area came out to discuss the many facets of adult life.
Held at the College of the Holy Cross, the Town Hall began with an adult services resource fair. There were more than 20 local service providers participating, all of which shared information about the programs and resources offered for adults with autism. During this time, individuals and families had the opportunity not only to connect with this regional network of providers, but also with one another.
The evening then transitioned to a moderated panel discussion designed to allow attendees to hear from experts and learn more about the process of obtaining housing and residential supports for adults with autism. Kate O’Neill, Autism Speaks Senior Director of Field Development for New England, kicked off the panel with a welcome to all who were there, introducing both staff and volunteers and noting that exhibitors came from near and far to share their resources.
She introduced the evening’s moderator, Terri Farrell, whose role at the Autism Insurance Resource Center at UMass Medical Center and as a mom brought valuable insights to the program. Ms. Farrell provided opening remarks before introducing each of the panelists, including:
- Michael Moloney, HMEA
- Catherine Boyle, Autism Housing Pathways
- Mike Mayes, Reebok employee
- Brian Liu-Constant, Evergreen Center
To begin the conversation, Mr. Moloney described the services offered at HMEA for adults with autism. He then talked about the need to know what services exist, but also what services individuals and families want. There’s room for creativity and opportunity to meet incredible demand while offering choice. He also discussed efforts to work toward improving economic conditions for support staff.
Ms. Boyle spoke next and shared the history of Autism Housing Pathways and its priorities, which include building capacity of families to find housing solutions, improving professional development of staff, conducting research into housing needs and building capacity of the housing sector to accommodate the needs of people with autism. She provided an overview of alternative housing options and offered strategies for families to prepare, plan and save for the process.
Mr. Mayes talked about that obstacles he faced while in school growing up, and how he never let anyone or anything deter him from his education and personal goals. He shared insights into his journey through college – what it was like living independently for the first time and the great friendships he made while there, as well as his current employment with Reebok. Mr. Mayes encouraged young adults to think about college, travel, and learning how to navigate local and regional transit options as they each provide a chance to grow and connect.
Mr. Liu-Constant presented information about the transition process, building upon the Individualized Education Plans developed through school to set a vision, goals and direction for the future. He reviewed the different agencies that may be involved in the process and highlighted important milestones to consider at various ages. Mr. Liu-Constant encouraged the audience to volunteer as members of a citizen’s advisory board, survey and certification team, or a human rights committee, as this role may offer more in-depth information and a better understanding of what agencies provide.
After the panel discussion, attendees asked the experts a variety of questions, ranging from how best to stay informed to processes behind accessing housing and other services across the region. Information about the ABLE Act was shared, and those in the audience from states other than Massachusetts, where the law has already been passed, were invited to petition their local government to enact the law.
To close, panelists offered a few takeaways for the audience: Mr. Moloney encouraged all to start early and create a network; Ms. Boyle recommended applying for Section 8 housing vouchers at age 18; Mr. Mayes encouraged young adults to start visiting colleges early in their high school careers; and Mr. Liu-Constant suggested that, in addition to starting early, everyone be participatory and take advantage of volunteer opportunities that might be available to them.
Learn more about the Town Hall on Adult Services here.