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DALLAS — Masha Gregory was nervous to move out of her parents’ home and into her own place, where the 26-year-old Pennsylvania woman worried about making friends and being away from her parents. But after living in her own apartment at a complex that focuses on adults with autism, she’s made new friends and found she loves her independence.

“It was great to move out because I have my own life now,” said Gregory, who lives in a Pittsburgh-area development where half of the 42 units are for those diagnosed with autism. “I want to be able to come and go as I please,” said Gregory, who likes to draw and take photographs.

The complex, called the Dave Wright Apartments, opened in December and is among innovative housing developments popping up across the U.S. to serve those who were diagnosed with autism as children amid increased awareness about the disorder and changes in how it’s defined. The developments are often spearheaded by parents who see their adult children’s desire for independence and wonder who will care for them in the future.

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According to the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, 87 percent of adults with autism live with their parents at some point between high school and their early 20s — a far higher percentage than the general population.

“They want to live independently and they want to work. They want to be involved. Right now there are just not enough opportunities for them to do those things,” said Debra Caudy, who is working with her husband on a housing development near Dallas inspired by their 19-year-old autistic son, Jon.

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Gregory’s mother, Connie, said her daughter is “thriving” in her new home.

“I think she realizes that she fits in,” Gregory said. “I don’t know that she would feel as secure anywhere else.”

Masha Gregory describes herself as having a “little bit of autism,” along with auditory processing disorder, meaning her ears and brain don’t function well together.

Autism impairs one’s ability to communicate and interact with others, but there can be a wide range to the symptoms and severity of the disorder. Symptoms could include not speaking, repeating certain behaviors and not wanting change in daily activities. Some people with autism have signs of lower than normal intelligence, but others have normal to high intelligence.

The new crop of developments to accommodate autistic adults is varied. Some are in big cities, others in small towns. Some are like the complex where Gregory has an apartment to herself. Others have homes with shared living areas and private bedrooms and bathrooms. Some just have a person on staff who can offer guidance to residents, while others offer an array of supportive services.

“What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the other,” said Carolyn Klebanoff, a co-founder of Sweetwater Spectrum, a development featuring four shared homes in Sonoma, California. “Having a whole variety of options out there is critical.”

Sweetwater, which opened in 2013, is within walking distance of the town square. It has a community center, farm, greenhouse and pool. The homes have noise-dampening ceilings and quiet heating and air conditioning systems for residents who are hypersensitive to loud sounds. Residents include those like Klebanoff’s 23-year-old daughter who aren’t conversational, as well people with high-functioning autism.

“It’s more like just a place to live,” said 24-year-old Sweetwater resident Gwen Fisher, while adding that she appreciates its focus on people with autism.

Fisher said she participates in activities offered at Sweetwater but also gets out into the community, including working as a dog walker and volunteering at a food bank and animal shelter.

Desiree Kameka, director of community engagement and the housing network at Madison House Autism Foundation in Maryland, said such developments can provide more freedom than group homes, where housing is typically tied to a specific provider of support services.

“It gives the people that live there the most flexibility and control,” she said, adding that sometimes group home residents end up being required to all do the same outside activities.

Many people with autism don’t qualify for government services once they leave school, she noted, and these developments may help bridge the gap, providing enough support that they can live on their own.

“Some of these communities could give people opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have: They’d be forced to live with family,” she said.

Elliot Frank, president of the nonprofit Autism Housing Development Corporation of Pittsburgh, which was behind the Dave Wright Apartments where Masha Gregory lives, has watched as a community has formed there. Frank said he came up with the concept after hearing a businessman talk about employing autistic adults and wondering where they would live.

“The whole concept of what we call disability housing, it’s not what we used to think about,” Frank said.

— Jamie Stengle

  • This is the kind of a living place my son is looking for.A place that he can come and go As he pleases yet have the support.He is 22 years old and was diagnosed with High functioning Autism at the of age 16. So this would be perfect for his 1st home. And he can have the support and meet people.
    Is there any places like this we can come and see and talk with someone in Annapolis area or between Annapolis and BWI Airport( that is where he works)?
    Thank You very Much!!
    Joyce Lee

  • I am a psychotherapist in Lexington, KY and am looking for resources for a patient of mine whose nephew (23) resides in Thibidaux, LA. He suffers from autism and has been in the care of his biological mother for his entire life, but lately has had some difficulties with outbursts, and it has been determined that his level of care, and more importantly a new treatment plan needs to be explored and created. I am hoping someone can provide me with some resources in Louisiana area, where I might be able to refer the family for advice and care.

    Thank you for your time and consideration,
    Alan Gooch, MSW, LCSW

  • I have a soon to be 17 year old,and worry everyday about where she will en up if anything happens to us. We are seniors ourselves. They desperately need an all inclusive complex for these kids. I’m in Charlotte NC and I know it’s something that could be done. We all need to come together and make this happen someway somehow

  • My 28 y.o. nephew who is high functioning Asperger’s has been with me for 5 yrs after being homeless for a yr. I am so frustrated with the lack of systems in place for helping these individuals find secure housing. We live in Massachusetts any info regarding such a place,complex such as above sounds wonderful

  • I am in the same boat as most of you: 24 year old male, Executive Functioning Issues, Social Issues. Can work (well) doing repetitive tasks, but can’t make it thru the interviews. Need to find adult housing.

  • Can someone please help me I have a 22 year old son who has Aspergers and has very little motivation to do anything he is very socially awkward I worry what happens to him when I’m not around since I am his only parent. I need to find a group home for him to go to to learn all the skills he needs to learn on his own and I don’t know where to start since I can’t financially afford the places I’m finding

  • Looking for somewhere my austitic daughter (12) can live and thrive
    She is non – verbal and needs a safe place to be since she is not able to socialize and grasp everyday signs of danger that could potentially hurt her.

    • My 21 year old high functioning autistic son feels like he’s ready to move into his own place but he only receives SSI. He doesn’t work right now. Can someone help us?

  • Please contact me. My grandson is 16 with aspergers and I worry what will happen to him as he outlives me and his mother. I don’t know if he can hold a job or find housing etc on his own. It is out biggest fear over all the others. I am interested in starting something or helping or??? Anxiously waiting to hear from you.

  • Please contact me I’d love to share resources on starting a small community for autistic adults to thrive with assistance

    • Where are your resources located? My 21 year old high functioning autistic son lives with me in Marrero, La. And he is ready to have his own place.

    • I´m trying to find housing for my 39 year old son who is on the spectrum. He´s high functioning and has a college degree. After a recent criminal attack against him he is no longer willing to return to our Ohio town, where he had been living in one of my rental units, because it´s where the attack occurred. I can be reached at kshine at wljaradio dot net.

    • Have 22 y.o. son and his buddy living with me. Both have Asperger’s…receiving SSI…Medicare
      Limited options for independent living…considering a small living community startup, if possible. Would really appreciate any resources, advice, etc. you can provide. Thank you in advance! Tracy Weigel

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