Two retired doctors, Clay Heighten and Debra Caudy, envisioned a place where their son, Jon, a 20-year-old with an autism diagnosis, could learn how to transition into adulthood. Denton County, Texas is making this vision a reality. The 29 Acres project will be home to educational programs, housing and activity centers for individuals over the age of 18, that live with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The program gets its name from the amount of land the facilities will be situated on. Heighten and Caudy invested their own money to get the project off the ground. They wanted their son and other individuals like him to have a place where they could become more independent while easing into adulthood.
The motivation behind the project has come from parents across the country that fear their children living with autism will not be able to care for themselves as adults. Many of the resources currently out available to young adults are expensive and not geared towards children transitioning into adulthood. 29 Acres, modeling itself after similar facilities in Arizona and California, is trying to keep costs at a minimum. They offer a two year-long program that helps young people become more comfortable with living on their own and taking on more independence while still having guidance and support from the facilities staff.
In a Dallas News article, Dave Kearon, director of adult services at Autism Speaks said “The big picture here is that there are not nearly enough services”. Parents of children with autism have expressed their concerns for not only education beyond high school, but also a place to learn life skills and socialize as adults.
The housing accommodations available at 29 Acres is unique. Individuals enrolled at 29 acres will live amongst others in a “housing community”. On the 29 Acres website the living arrangements are explained as the following: “The 29 Acres supported living community is most like a co-housing model. The autism specific design of our housing community is research-based and will feature safety and security, including 24/7 supervision and a state-of-the-art technology platform to enhance safety and further independence”.
Parents will have peace of mind knowing their children will be safe as the program will also staff adults not living with ASD to reside in the home and provide supervision and support during this transitional time.
Those that wish to live at the 29 Acres housing facilities must complete an application and will be chosen on a first come, first serve basis. All applicants must be at least 18 years old, completed high school or a learning resource program, have a primary diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, able to function without attendant care, no history of aggressive behavior, arrests or probation and be motivated to live independently.
Applications can be accessed online beginning February 15th at www.29acres.org.