COMMUNITY AS A FOCUS FOR
AND FAMILIES WITH AUTISM?
idea is being discussed
among people in Waterloo-Wellington who are concerned about good lives
their sons, daughters and friends who have autism spectrum disorders
(ASD). A farm
community could also offer supports and resources to all persons and
with autism who do not actually live there.
A farm community might combine all these roles:
- a home and way of life for
adults with autism
- a place of work for
visiting adults and co-op school students
- a base for summer, weekend
and day programs, and a place for weekend respite for children and
- a node of expertise and
understanding of ASD and helpful support strategies
- a symbol and focus for
families, friends, and benefactors, now isolated and dispersed
- a model community that is
ecologically and environmentally responsible and also well integrated
with the larger surrounding community.
These are ideas about how a farm community could help people
- People with
hypersensitivities to noise, heat and crowds can feel calmer and better
able to cope when their environment is more spacious and quiet.
- A small-scale farm
community is easier to understand and cope with than the pressures and
confusion of a complex urban or metropolitan society.
- People have a good sense
of purpose and interdependency as they work together on meaningful and
necessary tasks every day and through the seasons of the year
- A farm gives opportunities
to develop special skills and interests in all the varied tasks of
caring for the land, crops, trees, animals and poultry and in craft
- Members of the community
and their families and friends can have a more sense of stability and
security, to balance their anxieties about the future
information, research possibilities and sharing of findings about
“what’s different” and “what helps”.
Ideas for an ASD Farm Community
and Centre in our region are being discussed. A Yahoo Discussion
Group has been set up. If you’d like to join in, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ASDFarmCommunityandCentre/
and request an invitation to join.
This is a preliminary
statement of our vision for a farm community. The next opportunity to
discuss the ideas in person will be on 1 November 2004, in the evening
at Ignatius/Orchard Park north of Guelph.
- Respect for the
individuality, self-expression and quality of life of each person with
- Ensuring that families
continue to have voices and leadership roles, with self-advocates also
represented, as well as supporters from the larger community. We have
to guard against domination by paid staff or managers, or by any
particular group in the ASD cause.
- Consensual decision-making
in the planning stages--if there's disagreement on some big issue, we
shouldn't act until we've worked through the problem. Perhaps use a
PATH planning strategy (see below).
- Inclusion and
inclusiveness--both for the range of persons with ASD, and for the ASD
community in relation to the larger society.
- A sense of shared
purpose and hope among all members—persons with autism, family
members, friends and professionals—so that all are represented in its
leadership, management and sustained development.
- A centre of excellence
and expertise that provides for the needs of persons with ASD and
their families, filling in the many gaps in present-day services, and
going further–building on strengths, enhancing quality of life,
optimizing each person's abilities, and supporting lifelong learning to
reach full potentials.
- Consultations and
therapy of various kinds, to suit complex individual needs, are
provided to people living onsite and offsite so families do not have to
- Various residential
options including, for example: a) semi-independently in small
individual homes but with support available when needed; b) by choice
in small groups in larger homes with a family-like atmosphere and more
support. There might also be on-site accommodations for
parents/relatives/friends who are visiting their family member.
- Many opportunities for
work, paid and voluntary, in caring for crops, livestock and trees,
and in related rural businesses or services for other members of the
- A base for co-op day
programs, respite and summer camps.
- A central store of
resources for ASD individuals/parents and community (videos,
therapy equipment, computers and software, laminators, printers).
- Strong connections with the larger society outside the farm/centre to increase
understanding of and interact with persons who have ASD.
- A base for involvement
by persons and families in research projects concerned with
ASD--its causes, treatments, best caring practices, effective learning
- Opportunities for University
and College students to learn about ASD and train to become more
effective teachers, support workers and other practitioners.
QUALITY OF LIFE
As well as
core values and functions, the resources of a landed property and the
skills and enthusiasm of community members can allow for all sorts of
"quality of life" features. Interesting and fulfilling activities are
worthwhile in themselves for community members. They are also ways for
from the larger society to visit and be involved in the ASD community,
increasing awareness and understanding and making further connections.
are just some features that would be compatible with a rural/farm
quite close to urban centres:
- Sound ecological and
environmental responsibility--in building styles, energy conservation,
organic farming methods, water and waste management. (It could be
possible to get special funds for these).
- Health and fitness--hiking
and riding trails etc for year-round exercise outdoors; some indoor
facilities as well—including relaxation rooms.
- Sharing resources about
various interventions and therapies. For example, with dietary
intervention: community could host an organic buying club, have a diet
kitchen for community members but also for sale to offsite member
families, and co-ordinate purchase of supplements
- Intensive horticulture,
including greenhouses; production of eggs and honey
- Sheltering rare plant and
animal species, in keeping with our deep-rooted love and care for our
special human beings. There could be breeding and sale of seeds, young
- Open days and a small
petting farm for kids
- Fostering and training
young dogs that are going to be companions for children/adults with ASD
- Therapeutic horseback
- Craft skills of all kinds,
with outlets for artistic talents and products that could be sold.
Weaving has been found good for calming sensory and nervous systems,
and pottery too....
- Among various ways of
interacting with larger community: a roadside shop and even tearoom; a
couple of community celebration days each year (spring and fall?)
- A retreat shelter for
carers who need a break....
WHAT WE NEED
- Continued deep thinking,
sharing ideas and listening to one another about elements of the vision
- Generous funding,
intelligent and enthusiastic advocacy and superb community relations
- Good insurance and
impeccable policies for protecting vulnerable people against abuse
- Leadership is critical: it
must be constantly renewed and refreshed.
- Carefully planned and
co-ordinated systems of governance and administration that are
consistent with the core values.
- Ideas for how we might
start—a pilot project that is effective by itself, but also part of a
longer-term, consistent, holistic and integrated vision?
Look up the Network of International
Communities for Autism (NIFCA) at
article (including discussion of Bittersweet Farms) by Prof. Margaret
of Wilfrid Laurier University: “In Response to
Deinstitutionalization: Farm Communities as a Housing Alternative for
Individuals with Autism” Journal of Leisurability, 27, 1
(Winter 2000). http://www.lin.ca/resource/html/Vol27/V27N1A2.htm