First Place AZ, a nonprofit serving adults with autism and other special needs, was recently awarded a $50,000 House to Home prize in the Autism Speaks HeroX crowdsourcing challenge. First Place was selected from among 250 competitors from 63 countries who submitted ideas for developing alternative housing and support services for the growing number of adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
First Place, a residential prototype for adults with autism and other special abilities, builds life, work and social skills by integrating three components: apartment units for a mix of residents who live independently in a supportive environment; a transition academy that teaches vocational and life skills; and a leadership institute that facilitates research, informs public policy and trains professionals and parents to help young adults with autism thrive. Residents and students become part of the First Place community through jobs, continuing education, volunteer opportunities and recreation.
According to First Place founder, board chair and president Denise Resnik, the project is currently being run at a beta site, while the organization raises funds for a permanent residential complex through a capital campaign. Construction of First Place Phoenix is slated to begin towards the end of the year.
Denise says that she started First Place to create a system to help her son, Matt, who has autism – and others like him – transition towards independence as young adults. “Matt, who is 25 years old, represents a generation of more than 500,000 children in the U.S. with autism entering adulthood this decade. We want to fuel a market for residential options for people with different abilities.”
The situation is similar to where the housing market for seniors was 40 years ago, when there were few options that supported independent living, according to Denise, who is also involved in the Council for Jews with Special Needs and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC). “Today there are many options for seniors. We’d like the same for people like Matt,” she says.