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

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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.

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.

Get more on the story from the video below: 

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To the People Who Say There’s Something ‘Wrong’ With My Autistic Son

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“If I didn’t know, I would never sense there was something wrong with him.”

When I receive this feedback from others concerning my son being on the spectrum, I now perceive it as a backhanded compliment. Before, I came to peace with excusing other people’s choice of vocabulary. It stung.

“Wrong with him.”

I recently referred to the reliable Merriam-Webster for a definition of “wrong,” just out of curiosity. Among the definitions were:

— not according to the moral standard

— not right or proper according to a code, standard, or convention

— not according to truth or facts

First, I must state I despise that our society has an ongoing push for political correctness. I am all for advocating social progress, because America definitely needs work, but I also can’t imagine living my life under constant scrutiny of how something can be considered offensive.

I am also not one who will be offended if you want to label my son “autistic.” I know there are many parents who are outraged when their loved one on the autism spectrum is referred to as autistic. “My son with autism” would be acceptable, “autistic” would not. The word is used to describe the developmental disability, and I don’t see the need to clarify the adjective. I think Alex Lowery covers this topic well.

But “wrong.”

The definition of “wrong” implies that my son is immoral, improper and incorrect. While I can agree that he can behave improperly, I find the other adjectives to be harsh and inaccurate.

To define a developmental disability as “wrong” is absurd in my opinion. Autism is many things: challenging, emotional, unique, intriguing, isolating, adventurous, extraordinary, frustrating. I am constantly blown away by my son’s brilliance.

He can remember someone’s name after hearing it just once. I know most adults, especially heavy business networkers, would love to have this skill. If he places an item (like a marble) in a hidden spot in the house, he will remember exactly where he placed it if I ask him a month later. He has a running inventory of where all 40-plus balls are in the house. He has known all of his shapes, letters and numbers since he was 2, including trapezoids, parallelograms and rhombuses. If there is a candy sprinkle on the floor 20 feet away, he can spot it.

Regardless of where anyone falls on the spectrum, I can’t fathom equating their value as “wrong.” When I think of “wrong,” I think of consequences that were the result of poor decision-making. Being on the autism spectrum isn’t a choice.

You can label me overly sensitive, but please rethink labeling my son “wrong.” Different isn’t wrong. But your choice of words might be.

Kelli Hrivnak

A version of this post first appeared on Auptimist.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When My Son Asked If His Friends Left Because of His Autism

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Two years ago, my eldest was diagnosed with autism. When that happened, a dear friend of mine said to me, “You mourn the child you thought you were going to have, Joanna, so you can embrace the child you were given.” I would like to say I have done that. When buggy (my eldest) was diagnosed, I was a flood of tears. I was terrified. When K (my baby) was diagnosed a year and a half later, well, I was a rock. Unshaken. Undeterred. Unafraid.

Two boys posing for photo in jackets with their hoods up

My family has grown to embrace autism. We see all the beauty it entails. We see and feel the struggles like other autism families; we just choose to focus on the joy.

We value the way they play (now that they actually play), and we celebrate every milestone. We hold them to high standards we would have held them to had they been neurotypical. Manners are a battle, but we are working hard on them. We are working on responsibility, so they have chores. We are working on sharing. We are working on co-play versus parallel play.

We have never given our children the idea that there is any reason they should be favored, danced around or not held to the same standards as everyone else.

My children are fantastic. They are loving, silly, fun, flamboyant and ostentatious, and they are autistic.

But today is hard. Today is hard because I am terrified for their future. Will they mainstream? Will they know love? Will they know friendship? Will the world ignore its impossible standards and accept my children? It scares me to death. I love my children. But today I’m terrified, because my eldest (who knows he is autistic and will tell me he has awesome) asked me if his friends (who went on a vacation) left because of his awesome. “A and E bye bye ’cause no like my awesome?” he asked. And no. Of course they didn’t. His friends love him. He is blessed with some of the best friends. I am blessed to be friends with their mothers. But something was there to make him think that. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t my husband or my friends. Like I said, we have never given my children the idea that they cannot do anything they want to do. So what told my sweet 5-year-old little boy that his “awesome” made him not good enough? What told him he was not worthy of friendship? Please, someone tell me what told my kid that and how I can completely remove that from his life.

Oh wait… it was the world. The world he and his brother are going to have to grow up in. Today I am terrified for their future, for the future of all kids with autism. With disabilities. Today I am terrified for my children, and for my students (I am a paraprofessional in an autism-specific classroom). I wonder if this world will grow to accept my buggy, my K and every one of my students. You see, I know, and you know if you have ever had a chance to love someone with autism, they are not a burden — they are a blessing. So someone please speak out. So no one else’s child has to assume they are not worth friendship. I believe every single person was put on this earth with a purpose. Despite what disability they may have, or maybe because of their disability. They have something to give, they have an inherit value. Shine for individuality, and embrace and accept those with a disability. Be someone’s friend. Make your mark on the world by making a mark on a life. Let them change you. Let them in. It will be worth it.

Today, I, a mom of two sweet boys who are only 5 and 3, am terrified, but together we can change that tomorrow. We can love openly and unconditionally. We can send the message that it’s OK to be different. That different is breathtakingly beautiful.

Follow this journey on A Special Kinda Life.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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This Spider-Man's Secret Identity Makes His Visit to a Cancer Patient Even More Special

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For the longest time, my youngest son said that when he grew up, he was going to be a cheetah. Then, after enough people told him it wasn’t possible, he changed it: “Fine, I’ll be a scientist who turns myself into a cheetah.” That persisted until his older brother politely asked him to stop telling people that because it was “kind of embarrassing.” His alternative of becoming Pikachu from Pokemon, however, didn’t sit much better with his big brother. 

Interestingly enough, once everyone stopped asking him what he wanted to be or telling him what he couldn’t be, he boldly informed us that he was going to be a famous author. I tried to hide my excitement about this since I clearly have a bias about this creative path. My first attempt at writing a book, “Ralph and the Talking Wheelchair,” was in the second grade. With its floral, Joann Fabric cover, it now sits with the rest of my unpublished efforts in a small bin in my attic. 

To my surprise, I woke up the other morning and saw a light shining from beneath my son’s bedroom door. Typically, he sneaks downstairs quietly to get his gigantic bowl of goldfish and starts playing his iPad before we can begin monitoring his screen time, or he startles us awake when he chooses to blare Spongebob Squarepants from the TV at 6 a.m. So, I tiptoed down the hall as the sun was just peeking over the hillside, and I peered through his doorway to see him sitting at his desk. He was writing. He must have felt someone staring at him, and he turned to me and said, “Oh, hi, Mom, I am on my next chapter. Do you want to hear it?” 

Holding back tears, I replied, “Of course, tell me.” As my big 8-year-old boy proudly tried to read his words back to me, I could still see the little boy who used to pull and drag me to everything he wanted because he couldn’t get his words out. He started therapy when he was 20 months old, and he was diagnosed with autism a few months later. Language has been an issue from the very beginning, yet here he was sitting at his desk, writing stories. Even though he had trouble reading the words he had written about his Minecraft adventure story, it didn’t matter. He was writing words on a page. He was drawing intricate pictures on paper, the same pictures I know play on repeat on the reel in his mind. My boy, the same boy who shouted, screamed and banged his head to communicate, was now sharing his inner world with me and anyone who would want to read his book.

For years, I sat at a table and held up one picture card at a time, “What is it? Pause What is it – ball? Pause What is it?” He would hopefully repeat, “Ball.” Word by word, he learned language discretely. During all the years sitting at our little table working with our stack of cards, I tried not to look backwards and ask, “Why?” I tried not to look forward and wonder, “What if…” or “Will he?” I tried to live in a day, working with one goal and one word at a time. That approach brought me to his doorway, watching him write his first book. Despite my unwavering belief in him, I must admit that I assumed he would never find joy in things he had trouble with. Clearly, he is my teacher. 

His perseverance and his hard work prove that any of us can find joy in places we might have never thought possible. Who knows, maybe he will publish a book about the scientist who turns the boy into a cheetah.

boy writing at desk

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Family of Teen With Autism Fighting Criminal Charges After Public Meltdown

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In July 2015, 18-year-old Paul Gordo, who has autism, had a meltdown at a public library in Monterey, California, which resulted in him pushing a 58-year-old woman to the ground. Gordo is currently awaiting trial on a felony assault charge, and his parents, Steve and Susan Gordo, are fighting to have the case dropped.

The family hoped Superior Court Judge Pamela Butler would reduce the charges at the preliminary hearing last month, but that didn’t happen. The felony remained in place, and a misdemeanor was added for another individual who was pushed inside the library.

The Gordos told the Modesto Bee that this criminalizes the disorder, and Steve Gordo added, “You can’t prosecute someone for behavior that is a direct result of their disability.”

The family has set up an online petition that has already received more than 11,000 signatures of support, and Jill Escher, president of the Autism Society of the San Francisco Bay Area, even wrote a letter to Judge Butler urging her to drop the criminal prosecution.

Escher, who has two children on the spectrum, told The Mighty that major changes need to be made within our legal system. “One thing’s for sure, our criminal justice system, which is predicated on the idea of punishing those who willingly choose to transgress the law, is no place to address impulsive acts of developmentally disabled adults,” Escher wrote in an email.

Assistant District Attorney Jenine Pacioni disagreed. “We’re not prosecuting autism, we’re not blaming autism for his behavior,” she told the Monterrey Herald. “This is a crime of violence committed against an innocent woman. We need to protect the public by making sure criminal behavior is prosecuted.”

Pacioni added that the prosecution does not want to put Gordo in prison; rather, they would like to see him put on supervised probation, where he would be monitored and given access to services for which he might not otherwise qualify.

Gordo said the family does not want to accept felony probation, and in a message on the family’s online petition page, he wrote, “To charge him, at all, is to make his disability, itself, a criminal act.”

 

For more information, visit the Gordo family’s Facebook page and their Change.org petition page.

h/t Disability Scoop

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Dad Starts Autism Photo Project to Enlighten His Community

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A father is using his camera to tell stories of people on the autism spectrum.

Glenn Gameson-Burrows lives in Monmouthshire, Wales, with his two children. His youngest daughter, 2-year-old Aneira, has autism.

close up of a child's face.

In June of 2015, Gameson-Burrows, who is an amateur photographer, decided to turn his lens toward a subject of great interest to him — autism in his community. He embarked upon a photo project called “Magpie.”

The name “Magpie” is an allusion to his daughter’s fascination with shiny objects, and it has taken the form of a documentary-style photography project. Gameson-Burrows has 11 children and two adults on the spectrum taking part in the project so far.

Photo of a young boy in a chair.

Gameson-Burrows was surprised to find such a lack of understanding in his own community about autism — people were often rude and unkind when Aneira had meltdowns in public. He hopes the project will raise awareness about autism and help people everywhere to understand the condition a little more.

“I hope that people will realize that because a child is on the spectrum and looks at the world differently doesn’t make them a bad child or you a bad parent,” Gameson-Burrows told The Mighty via Facebook message. “My hope is that people realize autism spectrum disorder is a real disorder and not simply a child or an adult being strange or naughty… The next time a member of the public witnesses a child screaming and lying on the floor I’d like them to think, ‘Maybe that child is autistic, maybe they are having a meltdown’ and I would hope that they wouldn’t stare or make passing comments.”

A young boy on a playground.

Gameson-Burrows tries to capture his subjects’ different perspectives on the world with his photos. He doesn’t pose them or direct them at all and he captures smiles and meltdowns alike, all in an attempt to show the experience as a whole.

See more photos from the project below:

A Young girl being comforted.

A young girl smiling.

A young boy playing on a tablet of some sort.

A photo of an adult man from behind on a beach.

A young girl in a sink.

A young boy by a fence.

A young boy playing with a musical instrument.

A young boy standing very close to a TV.

A girl on the floor.

A young man from behind standing near a window.

Close up of a young girl's face.

A young girl crying on stairs.

A young girl smiling on a swing.

A boy playing on the floor with toys.

A girl standing in a field.

“Magpie” will be on exhibition at The Senedd, Modern Welsh National Assembly building this year starting in August. Visit the Magpie — ASD Awareness Facebook page for more information.

h/t BabyCenter

 

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