A FARM COMMUNITY AS A FOCUS FOR

PERSONS AND FAMILIES WITH AUTISM?

1. An interest meeting was hosted by the ASO Wellington Chapter on Monday, 26 April 2004, 7-9 pm in the Community Room of Guelph’s West End Zehrs, and attended by about 20 people.

2. Gerald Bloomfield introduced the 25-minute video about Bittersweet Farms, the exemplary farm community for adults with autism in Northwest Ohio.

3. We discussed the possibilities for a farm community (as a basis for creative support strategies for children, youth and adults) in our Waterloo-Wellington region, and the tasks that would have to be undertaken. These include:

- fleshing out a vision to meet as many needs as possible in sustainable ways
- building a commitment to the vision and sharing this with others who can share in the work
- studying model farm communities and centres of ASD expertise, and learning as much as possible about details such as business plans
- thinking of good property sites and sources of funds
- co-operating with other likely organizations, beginning with Waterloo-Wellington Autism Services and Guelph Services for the Autistic, which are both legally incorporated and have relevant missions and mandates
-planning a process of several phases to realize the full vision over say a ten-year period. 

4. By consensus, it was agreed that those present would form a core group to move the project along. The Bloomfields are co-ordinating information exchange to start with. Everyone is thinking about possible allies and resources.

5. To begin with, it is suggested that everyone might write a brief note, to be shared with all, about her/his situation, reasons for being interested in the project, as well as thoughts and ideas they may have had since the meeting.

6. We should also share the idea with others who could be interested, either because they have family members with special needs or because they may want to support this project as community-minded volunteers.

7. The AGM of Waterloo-Wellington Autism Services, expected in early June 2004, may be an opportunity to discuss the ideas further, and in another part of our region. We'll let you have firm details soon.


BACKGROUND INFORMATION PROVIDED AT THE FIRST MEETING

We do not claim that every autistic adult would find living in a farm community would suit them best. But some would, and a farm community could offer additional features and resources to help other persons and families with autism who do not actually live there. Let’s look at the potential in our region…..

A farm community might be

a) a home and way of life for adults with autism who really choose it

b) a place of work for visiting adults and co-op school students

c) a base for summer, weekend and day programs, and a place for weekend respite for children and youth

d) a node of expertise and understanding of ASD and helpful support strategies  

e) a symbol and focus for families, benefactors and the larger community

f) a model community that is ecologically responsible and also well integrated with the larger community around it

 
How could a farm community help people with autism?

a) space, quiet and the calm colours of land and sky

b) a more intelligible microcosm of the larger society

c) a sense of purpose working together on meaningful and necessary tasks every day and through the seasons of the year

d) observation-based research possibilities and sharing of findings

e) opportunities to develop special skills and interests in all the varied tasks of caring for the land, crops, trees and animals and in craft workshops

f) a sense of permanence and security--putting down roots

Structures and special features
Physical location and site

  • fairly close to urban centres in area of not too sparse rural population
  • some rolling terrain in an attractive landscape with potential for trails
  • some woodland and mature trees
  • sense of natural spirituality
  • combination of land types for cultivation
  • water, both surface streams and ground water for wells
  • at least 70 acres
  • freehold or very long lease
Structures and special features
  • several houses, with space for house parents (Camphill model)
  • central facility for community/service/resource/learning-teaching site (building) to serve "on-site" and "off-site” members 
  • greenhouses and workshops (wood, metal, mosaic, pottery, weaving)
  • organic gardens and diet kitchen
  • sensory integration strategies
Philosophy
  • a place of inspiration attracting co-workers who contribute practical skills as well as understanding and respect for each person with autism
  • individualized person-centred planning and therapeutic support
  • time and flexibility, the way of life and structures to support it evolving in parallel
  • balance between the imperatives of a farm operation and the basic needs of each person with autism
Models and References
  • Bittersweet Farms, in NW Ohio (see video) is the most mature model in North America specifically developed for adults with autism. http://www.bittersweetfarms.org/
  • Network of International Farm Communities for Autism (NIFCA) http://www.autismnetwork.net/history.html
  • Camphill Villages, farm communities for people with developmental disabilities and their co-workers, have a philosophical and cultural approach we can learn from http://www.camphill.on.ca/history.html
  • L’Arche communities inspire with their commitment to vulnerable people and their spirituality http://www.larchecanada.org/
  • Eco-villages and biodynamic farm communities offer other features. http://www.ecovillages.org/ In our region are Everdale and Fourfold Farm, as well as CSA organic garden projects.

Bittersweet is reviewed in the context of farm communities in:
Margaret A. Schneider, “In Response to Deinstitutionalization: Farm Communities as a Housing Alternative for Individuals with Autism” Journal of Leisurability, 27, 1 (Winter 2000). Read text at http://www.lin.ca/resource/html/Vol27/V27N1A2.htm

Giddan, N. S., & Giddan, J. J. (1991). Autistic adults at Bittersweet Farms. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.

Giddan, J. J., & Giddan, N. S. (1993). Preface. In J.J. Giddan & N.S. Giddan (Eds.), European farm communities for autism (pp. 1-9). Toledo, OH: Medical College of Ohio Press.

Other models in Europe by 1992 (Giddan & Giddan,1993) included “Ny Allerodgärd in Alleröd, Denmark, the only such project in all of Scandinavia; Dunfirth Autistic Community, Ireland's exemplary program in Enfield, County Kildare; La Pradelle a pioneering model program in Saumane, France; Hof Meyerweide, the culmination of three stages of the Bremen Project in Bremen,, Germany; Wolfheze, the first farmstead in the Netherlands for adults with autism, created as an extension of the Dr. Leo Kannerhuis project; La Garriga, the expanding program near Barcelona, Spain and Somerset Court in Somerset, England, the original farmstead for adults with autism founded in the early 1970s by Sybil Elgar. Somerset Court was inspiration and model for several of the European programs and for the ground-breaking American example at Bittersweet Farms in Whitehouse, Ohio which opened in 1983.

During 1990s, new farm communities for autism opened. In the United States these include impressive programs at the Carolina Living and Learning Center near Chapel Hill, North Carolina and at The Homestead outside Des Moines, Iowa. Several were in formative stages, including Rockwood Farm of Adrian, Michigan, Pheasant Ring of Rochester Hills, Michigan, and The Adonis Family Farm of Southwest Florida. Rusty's Morningstar Ranch in Cornville, Arizona

 
 

FARMSTEAD MODEL CHARACTERISTICS  (from NIFCA site)

As described in the book European Farm Communities for Autism (Giddan & Giddan, 1993, Medical College of Ohio Press), Characteristics of these farmsteads include the following:

  • Rural settings
  • Natural contexts for residential, vocational and recreational experiences
  • Interdependence between residents and staff
  • Structure, order and behavioral principles applied
  • Focus on communication
  • On-going staff training
  • Involvement with the larger community beyond the site
  • Continued family support

SIMILARITIES AMONG COMMUNITIES:

  • Rural settings
  • Origins with regard to timing and needs
  • Parental involvement
  • "Special" teacher
  • Government funding
  • Range of abilities among the residents selected

CONTRASTING FEATURES:

  • Size of the community
  • Staff training methods and procedures
  • Styles of individualized programming for residents
  • Expectations for the residents
  • Type and extent of record keeping

CRITICAL ISSUES:

  • Leadership transitions
  • Long-term financial security
  • Public relations
  • Staff retention
  • Behavior management
  • Satellite settings
  • Program expansion