Meet Beth M.
Beth M., 59
Everyone is different and autism is a hard thing, so I would tell them to keep trying until they find what works for them.
As a native of the small, tight-knit community of Archbold, Ohio, Beth grew up with a sense of pride in hard work. She spent most of her early life in a foster home and struggled with social skills and typical classroom learning as a result of her autism. But her love of nature and working with her hands always brought her joy, and she never allowed her autism to stop her from achieving her goals.
As if the stars aligned just as she was set to graduate from high school, Beth was presented with an opportunity that she credits with positively changing her life forever – a chance to live and work at the first farm model residence for people with autism in the United States. Founded in 1983 by Bettye Ruth Kay, a local public-school teacher and advocate for people with special needs, Bittersweet Farms in northwest Ohio provides meaningful opportunities for adults in the autism community to live, work and socialize in an inclusive environment.
Beth takes great pride in working with her peers to harvest the fields, maintain greenhouse operations and manage construction, woodworking and animal care. The opportunity to live and work in this inclusive environment helped Beth reach her full potential. Today, at 59, she is an accomplished Special Olympics skier and swimmer, leads the farm’s art program and works daily to ensure the farm operates just as her mentor and friend, Bettye Ruth Kay, intended it to.
Learn more about Beth and her autism journey through her own words in this Q&A:
When did you realize what it meant to be autistic?
I started to realize in grade school, I think. My parents said they always knew I had autism.
What was your high school experience like as an autistic person in the early 1980’s?
I was in regular school through high school. My classmates helped me get through the experience when things were hard.
How did your life change when you arrived at Bittersweet Farms in 1983?
My life got good! I was able to do things and had the support I needed. I loved being outside and working all around the farm!
What is the best thing about being a resident at Bittersweet Farms today?
I still receive the support I need to live my best life and I get to do things I love, like Special Olympics, working in the barn, working in creative arts and cutting the grass. It is like living at a country club!
In what areas has your autism helped you excel in life?
It has given me greater mechanical abilities, like repairing engines and cars. It has also helped me with my locksmithing skills.
What struggles have you faced because of your autism?
Getting along with other people is sometimes difficult for me. Socialization is where my autism gets in the way the most, and I think that’s true for many of us who have autism.
Who have you relied on most as a support system throughout your autism journey?
The people here at Bittersweet Farms. I have been here since 1983, so I have been here for all of my adulthood. The people here are like my family. Actually, they are my family and this is my home.
What are your biggest accomplishments in life?
Special Olympics, especially bringing home gold medals every year in skiing and swimming.
Creating different art projects, like weaving large rugs and making fused glass turtles.
Showing Bittersweet’s mini horses at the local county fair.
What advice would you give to a young person, recently diagnosed with autism, wondering what the future holds for them?
I would tell them to come to Bittersweet! Everyone is different and autism is a hard thing, so I would tell them to keep trying until they find what works for them.
What are five words that best describe you?