What keeps you going? Not such an unfamiliar question, right? As my North Star, our son Matt, age 28, keeps me going, as do good health, a “keeper” husband of 36 years, supportive family members and friends, super-smart and talented colleagues, generous donors—and a big vision.
Combined, we’ve gotten through some very long days, even longer nights and the longest of all, the list of “noes.” You know the kind: No, not a good idea. No, not now. No, not something we could support. But with each disappointing no, we continue to embrace that big vision that picks us up, dusts us off and channels our energies in more positive directions.
It started 20 years ago as part of the residential strategic plan presented to the board of directors of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), just a few years after the nonprofit was formed. SARRC’s big vision back in 2000 and still holding true for First Place AZ in 2020:
“Our vision is to create an internationally recognized model that can be duplicated in other parts of Arizona, across the U.S. and around the world. … This model community will promote maximum independence for the individual, offering choices in terms of housing options, employment opportunities, recreational programs and daily living activity, integrating individuals with autism and typical peers with the community at large. … It is for them and the families who love them that this community will be developed, for it may be the first time that the future holds promise.”
That vision is materializing daily through life at First Place–Phoenix and advancing more broadly through the First Place Global Leadership Institute in collaboration with SARRC and other pioneering leaders around the globe. You can learn more by joining us, along with passionate family members and professionals, April 22–24 for our spring First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium. (Sign up here to receive info on our upcoming symposium.)
Based on extensive research and study, here’s what we’ve learned over the past two decades about what doesn’t work:
Here’s what we can and must do to build a marketplace with more locations and a variety of amenities, supports, services and price points while recognizing there is no one-size-fits-all solution:
The past decade gave rise to more kids with autism than ever transitioning to adulthood. And because of the National Autism Indicators Reports led by Paul Shattuck, PhD and Anne M. Roux, MPH, MA, we have real data acknowledging that the majority slide backward at a far greater rate after high school than any other disability group.
We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. We must learn valuable lessons, recognize that each of us has an important role to play and do what’s attainable now as we plan for what’s next. All things are possible when we begin our story with a vision bigger than ourselves and keep going courageously and collectively as communities to ensure that housing and community options are as bountiful for people with autism and other neurodiversities as they are for everyone else. Onward!