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Farm Life Suits Adult Autism Spectrum Need

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An article by John Johston gives information about how Safe Haven Farms is providing placement for adults with autism.

The former horse farm, which by next year will have 24 residents, is the first program of its kind in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and one of seven farm communities in the U.S. designed for adults with autism.

Delving a little further. Safe Haven Farms  started with one parent's inspiration, gained momentum via volunteer involvement - and became reality for the overall betterment of community. Safe Haven Farms is part of a bigger movement by a variety of families and professionals across the United States who desire to provide positive supports in a farm type setting so that those adults in the autism spectrum can thrive while being involved in tasks at the farms.

Dame Sybil Elgar was one of the very first to take to heart the concept of a rural type assisted living setting, and grow it into reality. She defined the overall need for those within the autism spectrum who are affected in a way that does not allow for independent living. She was able to do so because of her lifelong pursuit in understanding how to teach those in the autism spectrum. Once she gained experience in teaching them, she came to an understanding on ways to provide an acceptable way of living for them.

...Sybil was a pioneer twice over, as she also founded Somerset Court, the first residential community for adults with autism, in Brent Knoll, Somerset, in 1974. She recognised that while the children at the Ealing school improved considerably, they remained classically autistic, and if they did not continue to receive support as adults they could easily lose the skills they had learned. They needed a protected community for life. At Somerset Court, she was able to demonstrate that the skills the children had acquired at school greatly enhanced their lives as adults with autism. (link)

More about Somerset Court

Betty Ruth Kay was another who identified the need within the autism spectrum, to have meaningful living experience in a farm type setting.

Bittersweet Farms began in the mind of a dedicated and activist teacher named Betty Ruth Kay in the mid 1970s. Shortly after public law mandated equal access to an appropriate education for all persons with disabilities, Mrs. Kay was hired by Toledo Public Schools to teach a class of high school aged students with autism.

Betty Ruth eventually met with Dame Sybil Elgar at Somerset Court and... The breadth of activity in a bucolic setting that farm living offered convinced Mrs. Kay that this was the most appropriate model for persons with autism. (link)

NIFCA (Network For International Farming Communities For Autism) explains that...

Farmstead communities for adults with autism have been evolving in Europe and the United States since the early 1970's. Most were created through devoted and energetic leadership of parents and a "special " teacher. Most still flourish, with plans to expand residential and work options beyond the original site. The farmstead model is not a Utopian vision. It blends a unique set of opportunities for living, working and socializing in rural settings with access to activities in neighboring towns and cities. Farm activities include meaningful tasks that require cooperation and interdependence. Skills can be taught and communication enhanced as staff and residents work and play side-by-side.

The reality of what a rural type of setting can mean for those within the autism spectrum has always been foremost in my thinking because we ended up moving to eighty acres of land in South Dakota - in order to suit our own autistic daughter's need. I always knew eighty acres was too big for our more private need, which was that of giving our daughter time and space to come through worsening psychosis (schizophrenic type) at ten years of age. Since our daughter has begun to do so much better, I hope the next step in our family's journey is that of my husband and I achieving a dream of providing a farm type of setting for autism affected families in our area - according to their need.

For many months, I had been driving out to the rural areas with Sarah just to fill the hours. Even if she was suffering, I hoped the movement and change in scenery meant a little something to her. I would drive and imagine a place for Sarah. A place of peace and rest where enduring the scrutiny of others would not be required. Her problems were bad enough, but the added element of misinformed scrutiny was becoming the nail in the coffin. How was it that she and we should be judged by strangers so regularly, while they went about their barely informed business? Truth be told, it seemed as if some friends were also beginning to give the sideways glances—the ones that implied it has to be something  that was being done wrong by the family. I used to judge like them before I had Sarah. Being mother to this child, I felt as if I had become a woman without a country and this feeling was of little consequence. What seemed worthy and eternally consequential, was to walk the valleys and climb toward the mountaintops with her, doing so a day at a time. This became the understanding in our family. Between the Lord and I was this request, “Could we have a place for Sarah where her beautiful spirit could shine through the clouds of her illness?” (Hello, Dr. Wells)


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