Housing for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Farmstead Model

 September 26, 2013
Posted by M&LAdmin4

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Last week, we published a blog discussing Madison House Autism Foundation (MHAF), and the work that they do with housing for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As we were researching that piece, we came across some astonishing figures. According to the MHAF, more than 500,000 individuals with ASD will age into adulthood over the next decade, bringing with them an increased and incredible demand for independent living and housing programs.

Here at M&L Special Needs Planning, statistics regarding the current housing crisis for individuals with disabilities come as no surprise. Through our work with clients as well as our research for our Independent Living Program and Housing Project database, we have become increasingly familiar with the escalating need for these programs, versus the relative lack of programs available. Still, the thought of 500,000 individuals needing to access these limited programs over the next ten years is daunting.

As we mulled over the numbers, our thoughts turned to a housing model that has become very popular with families of individuals with ASD – the Farmstead. A few months ago, we published a blog titled Housing Options For Individuals with Disabilities – Intentional Communities. In this blog, we briefly touched on the Farmstead Model as a housing option. Today, we will discuss this model in greater detail, with a focus on individuals with ASD.

The Farmstead Model – What is it, exactly?

Quite simply, the Farmstead Model is an intentional community (a community created by a group of people who all share a common goal) that provides an independent living option for individuals with special needs. It combines living and vocational opportunities for individuals with disabilities, in a rural setting. In short, it is a residential model set within the context of a working farm. In some cases, the farmstead focuses on farming and selling produce to the local community; in others, it uses animal husbandry as therapeutic work for the individuals who live and work on the farm. Some farmsteads combine these two employment models, and have even created other vocational opportunities (cafes, restaurants, etc.) for residents.

Due to the unique nature of the farmstead, the vocational opportunities and living arrangements can be manipulated to suit the exact needs of an individual. As there are many different tasks to complete on a working farm, which range in difficulty, the operator(s) can assign each individual to tasks that suit his or her skills and abilities. In terms of housing, many farmsteads have a variety of housing units in different arrangements on the property – single-family dwellings, multi-family dwellings, and residences. In most cases, there are a number of different options to choose from for the individual’s living arrangement, i.e. living with roommates, living completely independently, living in a dorm, etc. In some cases, the individuals live off site, in a nearby community, and commute to the farmstead to work.

Benefits of the Farmstead Model for Individuals with ASD

According to experts, individuals with ASD living in the family home, or independently but without a “community” of roommates, peers, etc. often report feelings of isolation and loneliness, and a lack of purpose. These feelings can often stem from a need to connect with a community, to socialize with peers, and to have fulfilling employment opportunities.

The farmstead model is a housing option that is, at its core, community living. It combines housing, independent living, socialization with peers, rewarding vocational opportunities and community integration. It allows individuals to grow, to become independent and to learn valuable skills within a community of caring individuals. In short, it provides all the outlets for interaction that many adults with ASD report as missing in their current housing situations. Added to this is the malleability of the vocational opportunities – in short, the lifestyle and work opportunities can be specifically tailored to perfectly suit the skills, abilities, and needs of individuals with ASD.

It is important to note that all of the characteristics of the Farmstead Model that make it appealing to individuals with ASD also make this housing model a good choice for individuals with other types of disabilities. The Farmstead principles of integration, meaningful work and community living can be beneficial to all individuals looking for special needs housing – many of the farmsteads also offer a lifetime model that is particularly appealing to families and individuals who are looking for long term security and stability.

How do I learn more about farmstead living?

Despite the debate surrounding farmstead living (the debate is whether or not farmstead living constitutes segregation, therefore limiting federal funding under the Olmstead v. L.C. ruling – click here to read more about this debate), the Farmstead Model is growing in popularity, and more and more farmstead living programs are being implemented in the United States. For example, the Friendship Circle Blog has a sample of 15 farm and ranch Communities from across the country – please click here to view this article.

As well you may wish to check out Agricultural Communities for Adults with Autism (ACAA). The ACAA is a consortium of organizations focused on sharing and advocating for the best practices of agricultural based housing and employment models for adults with autism – their website is a great resource for individuals looking to learn more about this model.

If you are interested in the principles of farmstead living, but without the farm, you may wish to investigate the Village Living housing model. This model combines the living and vocational opportunities of the farmstead, but not necessarily in the rural, farm setting. The Village living model can be applied in a variety of settings including urban, rural, and suburban, etc. New England Village is one such example – for more information, please visit their website.

Need Help with Housing? Contact Us!

If you or your family member with special needs is currently having trouble finding an affordable, appropriate housing option please feel free to contact us! We are experts in the field of housing, and we can help you find a program that suits the financial and emotional needs of your family, as well as meeting the expectations of the individual looking for housing.

As well, we will soon be launching our Independent Living Program and Housing Project database – a one of a kind website that will provide you with one stop shop access to a variety of different housing programs and information from across the United States. The site is due to launch late October, so stay tuned! If you would like to be notified of the launch, please subscribe to our newsletter.

We love having you drop by our blog every week – thanks for taking the time to read our discussions, and we hope to have you here again soon! Have a great Thursday 🙂

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