With the end of April comes the end of Autism Awareness Month, a time where many have attended events to heighten the consciousness about those who have Autism. I hope that our friends and families out there will continue throughout the rest of the year to support the efforts of research in Autism, the education of those with Autism, and the planning for adults with Autism. As a professional in the world of working with families and their children with special needs, this is a 24/7, 365 day a year commitment for those families, siblings and other relatives. Sadly, the needs of our children are not reduced. As children with special needs grow into adulthood and turn 21 years of age, the concern of parents, siblings and other relatives becomes even more anxiety provoking. The issue of housing and the stress of finding housing only increases, as New Jersey is very short on housing for adults with special needs.
Jerry (names changed), who was 34 with Autism, was the only son of Ted, who was suffering from a chronic condition that would end fatally. Ted’s wife had already passed away 10 years ago and he was trying to sort things out for Jerry who would soon need to find a safe home. Fortunately, Ted had planned ahead financially to support his son and made the transition by putting in place a special needs trust, funding the trust, and transferring guardianship. For housing, Ted ultimately found Mt. Bethel Village, a safe and high level of community living with 24/7 supports specifically for adults with special needs and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). When Ted suddenly passed away, luckily plans were already made, and Jerry moved into Mount Bethel Village where he had friends on site, had his own apartment, activities 7 days a week, supervision for his medications, and a place to call home. Jerry continues to see his cousins, and his uncles and aunts, yet he is treated as an adult with his own apartment and independent living.
Jerry was one of the lucky ones whose family had the financial resources to provide such an option. But for the many adults waiting out there for housing, such an option is not necessarily available. We can support the Innovative Services Bill for adults with Disabilities S-2893, A-254, which appear to have support in the Assembly and the Senate for the Dept. of Human Services, to think outside box by engaging both the private and public sector in coming up with alternatives in housing for our adults with special needs. We need to address the housing crisis now.
Carolann Garafola is the Executive Director at Mt. Bethel Village located in Warren, NJ. Mt. Bethel Village is an assisted living community that provides safety, comfort, and enjoyment of life to adults of all ages with autism, developmental disabilities, or traumatic brain injuries.