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Calls to Action

Housing and Residential Support at the Autism Investment Conference

Autism Speaks showcases innovative models for supporting adults with autism through housing and residential services
March 05, 2014

The second day of the 2014 Autism Speaks Autism Investment Conference opened with a focus on residential support for adults on the autism spectrum.

“Adults with autism deserve the opportunity to live independent and fulfilling lives as contributing members of society,” said moderator Lisa Goring, Autism Speaks executive vice president for programs and services. “But on a national level, we’re facing a severe shortage of housing and residential supports for adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.”

Without innovative solutions, Goring warned, the problem will dramatically worsen as some 500,000 teens with autism enter adulthood over the coming decade. Goring cited findings from Autism Speaks National Survey on Housing & Residential Supports. These included a dire for financial assistance to help families secure appropriate housing and residential support services for adult children and other loved ones with autism.

Our community already faces a housing crisis, Goring stressed. Solutions must come through a collaboration of families, experts and investors, she said in introducing the session’s investment opportunity showcase.

Housing and Residential Support Showcase

First Place AZ Founder Denise Resnick announced that First Place is preparing to break ground on a 50-unit model residence for individuals with autism and other developmental disorders, in Phoenix. The model is based on her team’s evaluation of the strengths and limitations of nearly 100 residential options across the US. It will include apartments for residents, a transition academy for students and a leadership institute for professionals and support providers.

“Our business model will demonstrate how this type of residential option works in urban, suburban and rural communities, close to where families live,” she said. “We’re committed to bringing public, private, nonprofit and stakeholder interests together to provide adults with autism and their families with greater choice in residential options based on individual needs.”

Resnik’s 22-year-old son has autism. She is co-founder of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center and is a member of Housing & Residential Supports Committee of the Autism Speaks Board.

The Center for Discovery Development Director Bill Evans (left) gave an overview of the center’s pioneering work on its Monticello, New York, campus. The Center for Discovery provides residences, specialized care and education for children and adults with severely disabling forms of autism and other disorders.

Its adult residences are designed to be customized to each individual’s independence level. The program emphasizes community participation and provides a wide variety of activities that encourage residents to achieve their full potential. The center’s wooded campus also provides residential care and schooling for children age 5 to 21. It is renowned for its outdoor learning programs and creative classroom spaces. On-site clinics provide medical, physical and psychological support.

Autistic Global Initiative Executive Director Valerie Paradiz (left) profiled the consulting services provided by her initiative, a program of the Autism Research Institute (ARI). This committee of adults on the autism spectrum includes professionals in fields such as education, social work, medicine, employment, fitness and wellness, rehabilitation counseling and the arts.

“AGI members feel that solutions to [housing] challenges can be found within the adult autistic community itself,” she said. “By designing and directing initiatives specific to adult concerns and to those who provide support to adults, the Autistic Global Initiative aims to be a part of the solution to the demand that lies before us.”

With funding from Autism Speaks, Dr. Paradiz and AGI developed a training curriculum for residential care providers. The curriculum is now available as an open-access online learning platform, thanks to a partnership with the Houlton Institute. Together, Autism Speaks, AGI and the Houlton Institute hope to implement a national certification program for residential care providers.

Community Living Options President Michael Strouse described how his organization’s Virtual Village helps adults with autism to live semi-independently in a Lawrence, Kansas, apartment complex. Last year, Autism Speaks provided a community grant to the organization to develop its Virtual Village Neighborhood Network. The technology behind the network provides remote monitoring and support together with on-demand, on-site staffing. The combination of remote and in-person support maximizes independence and minimizes costs, he said. 

“Our founders understood the importance of applying best practice technology to important social concerns and creating new service models through measurement and evaluation, which continues to this day,” Dr. Strouse said. In addition, CLO has developed a Family Teaching Model that places three or four individuals with special needs on one side of an attached home, with a “Family Teaching” couple on the other side. The two sides connect through a common hallway or door, allowing the group to function as an extended family.

Housing and Residential Supports Panel

Following the showcase, three experts in the field of housing and residential supports discussed a variety of topics surrounding the need for additional resources. Special needs housing consultant George Braddock discussed Creative Housing Solution's focus on person-centered planning principles in homes for individuals with disabilities. The company's guiding principle, he said, is through careful planning, design and product selection to make homes healthy and safe, eliminate obstacles, reduce restrictions and increase individual control, independence and choice. 

Tom Toronto, president of Bergen County United Way in New Jersey, described how his group built an award-winning housing project for individuals with developmental disabilities. The project won the Governor’s Excellence in Housing Award. As a panelist, Toronto emphasized the importance of working with local governments to meet the public need for affordable, special-needs housing. Legislators have an obligation to support this community, he said, and the United Way's work in New Jersey is a strong model of what can be accomplished by working with the government.

Panelist John Maltby, director of community service programs at Westchester Institute for Human Development, in Valhalla, New York, spent 36 years on Wall Street as a proprietary trader and hedge fund manager. Maltby focused on the importance of directing existing resources to support smaller, more-integrated housing. Maltby said his background and expertise allows him to connect potential investors with opportunities in the disability housing market. 

More Housing Resources

Learn more about the resources Autism Speaks has created focused on housing and residential supports for adults with autism, including the Housing and Residential Supports Tool Kit, here.

For complete coverage of Autism Speaks 2014 Autism Investment Conference, click here.