Parents Are Developing This Neighborhood to Be a 'Utopia' for Adults With Autism


Parents in East Tennessee are working to create what they hope will be a “Utopia” for adults with autism who have aged out of the school system.

Autism Breakthrough of Knoxville provides many services, including in-home supports, personal assistance, job skill development and more, but its largest undertaking is the construction of a neighborhood in South Knoxville.

The neighborhood consists of seven homes on Thurmann Lane in South Knoxville and an additional six supported homes in and around the Knoxville metro area where staff transport and provide 24-hour support for residents with autism to the degree they require assistance.

Photo of a neighborhood with several houses and cars in the driveways.

This neighborhood is a safe and economical housing option for residents with autism to live independently from their parents. The organization provides a full range of services for residents of this neighborhood, including community living, services, recreation and employment.

“We sat down and kind of dreamed what would be Utopia for our kids, and Breakthrough was born. Is it Utopia? No, not yet, [but] we’re trying to get there,” Beth Ritchie, Executive Director of Autism Breakthrough of Knoxville, told WBIR News. “People think of autism more with little children but little children grow up and autism does not go away.”

The nonprofit was started 17 years ago by parents as a way to provide for their childrens’ futures. State and federal money, as well as private donations, help fund Autism Breakthrough of Knoxville.

Lance Fisher has autism and has been a resident in the South Knoxville neighborhood for the past four years.

“The reason why I moved here is because it’s a much better place to stay with roommates and a house manager and all that good stuff,” Fisher says in the video below.

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