I can tell you as the parent of two boys with autism, the fear of what will happen to them when they “age out” of the system in their early 20s keeps you up at night.

For most parents of neurotypical children, you know your social contract is that you take care of them until they’re 18, then a more hands-off form of being there for them as they work their way through their 20s. A few decades later and it’s expected that when you’re old and failing, they’ll be there to take care of you.

With autism, it isn’t like that at all. The contract is often that you take care of them for their entire lives until you are old and frail, and then you hope against hope you figure out who or what will take care of them for the next thirty more years after you die.

Karen Fluharty knows exactly how I feel. In an article on nj.com, she talked about her son Ryan and her fear of when he would fall “off the services cliff.” She searched dozens of places around the country and found none to be good enough.

hidesy GettyImages
hidesy GettyImages

“None of them were a fit. They were either group home-like settings where individuals needed higher 1:1 support. Or located in neighborhoods that weren’t walkable.”

Many people with autism are never able to drive a car.

She decided to invent her own and came up with Parents with a Plan. The nonprofit helped create a neuro-diverse housing complex in Red Bank. Called Thrive, it’s expected to be completed in 2025.

World Autism awareness and pride day or month with Puzzle pattern ribbon on wooden background.
Photo via nambitomo

It will feature 32 one-bedroom apartments and a studio apartment on the ground floor of the planned three-story building. A “navigator” will be in the studio apartment and their job will be guiding all the tenants through anything their autism gets in the way of.

Christopher Manente is the founding executive director of Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services and he is fully on board with what Fluharty is doing.

Access to this type of housing will reduce costs,” said Manente. “The idea here is to do things up front. It will also result in less of a need to be so reactive and waiting for people to fail, which is the current system. Only people who lapse into crisis get attention.

World Autism Awareness day, mental health care concept with puzzle jigsaw pattern on heart shape kid's hands (isolated with clipping path) for supporting autistic child
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Read more about the project here.

With New Jersey mysteriously having one of the highest rates of autism, more housing like this will give people hope. I get the feeling Karen Fluharty is just getting warmed up in the hope department.

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