A New Housing Community In Texas Gives Autistic Adults An Independent Home Life
Clay Heighten and Debra Caudy wanted their son Jon, who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), to be able to live in his own home one day. As they edged closer to retirement, the idea that Jon might not be prepared, or able, to live in his own home became an increasing concern for them.
The couple realized that there was a big gap in the existing housing market – they were unable to find homes built with the specific needs of autistic adults in mind. There was also little to no education in place to help autistic adults learn how to transition into an independent, home-based lifestyle one day. There were certainly independent living facilities, but nothing that gave residents the full experience of home living.
The couple decided to spearhead their own solution by launching a non-profit with a $750,000 investment of their own money. The money was used to purchase 29 acres of land in 2015 with the long term goal of raising additional funds in order to build a housing development exclusively for adults with ASD on the property.
The couple’s vision was to build a housing community called 29 Acres – a development built specifically to support the safety, independence and spatial needs of ASD adults. Because Autism occurs on a spectrum, the couple wanted to make sure the development was set up to support residents who needed additional assistance and also empower the high-functioning residents who would go on to purchase or rent their own homes outside of the community one day.
Once it is fully completed, the community will have 15 homes, and provide the experience of independent home living to 60 ASD adults. This shared home setup creates a healthy mix of social and private space for residents. It also means that ASD adults who need day-to-day support will be able to have caregivers live with them. Plans for the housing complex include beautiful grounds and an activity center. The activity center will serve as a social gathering place as well hosting the 29 Acres residential Transition Academy.
The academy is an integral part of the couple’s vision. It is a 2 year, tuition based, residential transition program for high-functioning young adults on the autism spectrum. One of the academy’s goals is to set residents up for success should they decide to move out and become homeowners or renters outside of 29 Acres one day.
As of today, 29 Acres has broken ground and Phase I of their construction process, eight homes, the community center, a pool and walking paths, are underway. Residents should be able to move into the community the summer of 2020.
However, the organization didn’t wait for construction to finish in order to begin their mission of empowerment. They rented homes in Little Elm, Texas so they could begin offering independent living to eight ASD adults as well as providing them with a trial run of their residential Transition Academy. Eight more students will begin in 2019 and by 2020 there will be 32 students enrolled in the program.
The organization is also providing education outreach services to ASD adults in surrounding communities. Currently they are offering a summer, day program called Enrich 29 and host a weekly club called 29 Friends that helps adults with autism share meaningful experiences together.