Over 500,000 people with autism will transition into adulthood over the next decade. Most young adults with autism live at home because there are no other options.  Baby boomer parents are aging and over 50% of parents of children with autism report depression. A small percentage of adults with disabilities have full time work.  Even fewer have meaningful work. This is what sparked FRED – an experiment, which has evolved into a conference.

FRED was started last year to bring together those dedicated to creating living, learning and work communities for adults with autism (and other disabilities) on farms and ranches.

Between the first and second conference, the mission has broadened to include all intentional communities.  (Definition: A planned residential community designed for a particular purpose with a focus on unity and teamwork.)

FRED is the creation of the folks at Golden Heart Ranch – just such a community, and they put together a great agenda and bevy of terrific speakers.  The conference is held in Los Angeles.

So what did I take away from FRED?

  • All of the initiatives have been started and continue to be founded by parents because there are too few good alternatives out there for their children as they reach the cliff (age 22) when almost all existing services and programs end.
  • Federal and state funding and regulations frame the range of solutions.
  • Many of the programs begin with day and summer camp programs that include organic and hydroponic farming, farm animals, wood working and the arts with the goal of moving on to include residences.
  • The complexity of creating meaningful and successful solutions is staggering and includes the many issues involved with providing services, funding services, building the physical environment and so on.
  • Don’t go it alone – find partners and appropriate professional help.
  • There is great opportunity for creative new solutions addressing land ownership, developing facilities and providing great services.
  • Own the property, if possible, and hire the services.  If the services don’t work out, a new provider can be hired and no one has to leave their home.  These developments are meant to be true homes.  However, property ownership is often not affordable for the average family!

Examples include:

  • Bittersweet Farms.  The oldest and much respected farm located in Whitehouse, Ohio.  Beth Meyer, a resident of 30 years, spoke of a full life with meaningful work.
  • Down Home Ranch.  Larry Horton founded the ranch with his wife. He explained that the ranch began 23 years ago with campers in tents. Today Down Home Ranch has 40 full-time residents and 160 summer campers in Elgin, Texas.
  • Sweetwater Spectrum.  Newly built, 16 residents are moving in to a 3- acre property in the heart of Sonoma, California.  Their approach:  Rent includes room and board in a 4 -person house (residents pick their roommates) and a monthly fee supports all shared activities.  Each family contracts for services as needed.  This is not rural, but the 3 acres includes a 1.25 acre organic garden.  Two founders, Mark Jackson and Earle Weiss, were on hand with much sound advice.

Bottom Line:

People must share their knowledge and experiences – there are more initiatives going on out there than we know about and new groups should not have to start from scratch!

Getting a project going requires brains, determination and a flair for fundraising and advocacy.  There were about 200 people with those qualities at this conference.  There are more out there working away – we will need even more.

Resources:

Farms and Ranches Enabling People with Disabilities/

FRED http://www.fredconference.myevent.com/?cp=1

Bittersweet Farms http://home.tbbs.net/semisweet/index.html

Down Home Ranch http://www.downhomeranch.org/index.shtml

Sweetwater Spectrum http://www.sweetwaterspectrum.org/home0.aspx