The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina

Asheville agency giving autistics their own “home”

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WNC House Manager Melanie McGill and Holland exchange hugs. Photo courtesy of Erin Brethauer, Asheville Citizen-Times

North Carolina’s no stranger for people to place themselves in the minds of autistics. As the adult population grows, so will the need for homes to accommodate 24-hour support and supervision for autistic adults whose behavioral challenges prohibit them from living on their own. WNC Group Homes, who owns five facilities in Asheville, have been testing their new Kenmore Street location since January, which replaced a Montford home that WNC described wasn’t built for their needs.

WNC teamed up with Tyner Construction, Co. and architect Andrew Willet to design a hybrid that could withstand pressure but not give off a sterile, cold feeling. The walls were created with high-impact drywall, a material often used in hospitals and detention facilities, but can also hold up against sudden emotional outbursts from its residents who may be unable to express their emotions in a more subtle way. The counters were constructed with extra-durable granite, and the trim is stained wood, which doesn’t chip as easily as standard painted moldings.

Not that visitors would notice right away. The walls are painted beige and the home is an open-floor plan, filled with light and lined nearly floor to ceiling with windows. Even the residents live out the home’s hybrid model, who all participate in sports and arts programming and hold jobs with various employers.

Casey Blake, who wrote the story, may have been inspired by Autism Awareness Month as the article’s web page includes a notice about WNC Group Homes and a link to the Autism Society of North Carolina’s website. Had this story been published in another time, the timing would have been more questionable since the story occurred long after the group home opened (stories on new facilities are generally released near or soon after their opening date). Still, Blake’s profile of the facility may highlight the future of caring for autistic adults as the public wonders what their future holds once their youth services end.

Blake offers one possibility by sticking with a hybrid theme for both the home and its residents. As with any other group home, the design incorporates the challenges of its residents, which are sensory sensitivity, accessibility and emotional outbursts in this case. While the aesthetic incorporation was the core of the story, she could have stopped reporting about the residents after explaining how the home could adapt to them. Instead, she continues her interview to reveal how the Kenmore residents are contributing to society, even if the rest of the public would take those contributions for granted.

Caretakers who clients include autistic people stand to gain the most from Blake’s story, by either following the WNC Group Home model for their Kenmore location (reaction has been overwhelmingly positive) or contacting their local reporters to highlight a similar hybrid home. Autism coverage of old often painted grim pictures of autistic adults whose symptoms were too severe to completely integrate with the mainstream. Blake doesn’t play “happy-go-lucky” with her story, but she does communicate that even the most severely impaired individuals who require special needs can enjoy some of the comforts their unimpaired peers almost expect.

Autistic kids not welcome in restaurants?

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Courtesy WECT

WECT (NBC affiliate in North Carolina) released a story this evening about a mother who claims that a local restaurant is violating the American with Disabilities Act by posting a sign and refusing to admit screaming children. The owner told WECT that screaming children wouldn’t be kicked out. They would be asked to step outside until they calm down. The mother, Kelly Chambliss, has an autistic son (tantrums are a common symptom as autistic people are sometimes unable to express emotions in a less intense manner) and confronted the restaurant’s owner as she feels the establishment doesn’t want her son there. According to WECT, no formal suit has been filed against the restaurant.

From a journalistic background, it’s hard to draw any conclusions from a “he said/she said” perspective. A general rule for journalists is to report every side of the story in order to satisfy the criteria for objectivity. While the rule prevents professional reporters from choosing sides (cable news pundits have that covered), the strive for balance can also be a hindrance, with many articles and TV reports on social topics stripped to an over-simplification, including the story on a restaurant supposedly banning autistic people. With no clue to the actual cause, this story, through no fault of the reporter, is likely to waste time on Internet space and a newsblock because viewers really won’t know whose story is more accurate.

That’s not to say this idea should be abandoned. Mainstream reports in the past have touched on the trials of transporting autistic children, where they face environments that can be overwhelming for them and for a public who may not understand the autistic mind. I blogged about a movie theater chain offering autism-friendly screenings back in April as a sign that autism is slowly permeating through mainstream society. After reading the WECT story, journalists may want to speak with businesses and/or psychologists on how everyone can adapt to autistic customers. Businesses would be ill-advised to restrict entrance based on physical or mental disabilities, as they would suffer the wrath of civil rights groups. They also need to maintain a professional and relaxing atmosphere to avoid alienating other customers, and those two needs sometimes clash as they may have with the subject of today’s blog.

This won’t be the last “he said/she said” story to hit the web or the airwaves, but proper conflict management and understanding of the rules in place for customers and employees would likely promote a better emotional understanding and reduce the quantity of stories like this, focusing instead on the deeper realms of autism yet to be explored.

Who says autism is destructive?

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Courtesy WECT

At least that’s what the mother of two adult sons with autism thinks. She started a program in North Carolina called ASAP (Autism Support and Programs) to support the autistic community after her oldest son had to check into a special facility because his condition was so severe.

The program grew large enough where Judy Clark can now bring her sons back together in a group home designed for people with autism. Despite all the symptoms both her sons have, Clark (left) says she wouldn’t trade her kids for any other kids in the world. If they weren’t autistic, Clark says her kids wouldn’t be who they are.

A friend of mine from college who now works at the group home sent me this story. The air date was November 5th of last year. Sure, it’s a little old, but after some head-scratching stories in my last two posts, this profile piece was refreshing to watch. Clark has so much love for her kids that WECT could probably do a profile of those two as a follow-up, or highlight how ASAP is helping “aging” autistics as the adult population grows. An article in The Washington Post last year suggested we could have 1.5 million adults by 2016 (that’s only six years from now), which means there’s going to be a significant segment of the population that we’ll have to adapt to. Dylan and Remly, Clark’s two sons, will be a part of that population. Don’t be surprised if you see similar stories in your area or nationally in the future, as all those kids newspapers and TV stations featured in their autism stories of yesteryear will grow.

Evaluating progress is difficult with the wide range in severity, but the group home in this story does provide evidence that even the most severely impaired can live a fulfilling life if their needs are met. Last year, I questioned the idea of progress with autistic people and if that means they act more like neurotypicals or if more people are accepting autistic people’s views of the world. Some parents who read this will likely develop understandable fears, others will learn not to fret about the future.

The reporter does a fine job profiling how the center is already changing lives in its infancy and sets up possibilities for future stories in multiple directions.

Written by TheSportsBrain

January 14, 2010 at 11:43 am