Three Independent Living Programs for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders

May 1st, 2014

Welcome to May everyone – we hope that you have all had an excellent spring so far!  Here at M&L, we have been enjoying these last two months immensely. We have also been busying preparing for the busy summer months ahead – stay tuned to our blog over the coming weeks for updates as to our special needs community development projects.

As our regular readers know, we recently devoted a number of our weekly blogs to topics directly related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in honor of Autism Awareness Month (April 2nd to April 30th). For example, a few weeks ago we wrote a blog that focused on the CDC’s latest report on ASD, and the alarming new statistic that came from that report (i.e. 1 in 68 children in USA are identified with ASD). Last week, we took a look at the DSM-5, and the changes that have been made to the definition of ASD in this incredibly important manual. (For a full list of our published blogs that are related to ASD, please click here here).

Although Autism Awareness Month ended yesterday, we wanted to write one more blog that focused on providing useful information to individuals with ASD and their families. So, this week we will be combining ASD with one of our favorite topics – housing. Please join us as we take a brief look at three incredible independent living programs for individuals with ASD – Sweetwater Spectrum, Bittersweet Farms, and Cape Cod Village.

Sweetwater Spectrum

Sweetwater Spectrum is a community-based living model for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The community is located in Sonoma, California, and was designed based on the principles of supportive living in a residential setting. Sweetwater Spectrum provides independent living for 16 adults with ASD, and is intended to not only act as a community and living option for these 16 residents, but also to “embody best practices for housing” for adults on the spectrum. In short, Sweetwater Spectrum is a housing model that the developers feel should be replicated by other independent living and housing programs for individuals with ASD across the United States.

In fact, the pledge to build a housing model that can be replicated nationwide is one of the 8 founding principles of Sweetwater spectrum. The other principles call for the celebration and support of individuals from the full range of ASD, and the active resident involvement in their home, neighborhood, and surrounding communities. The community also pledges to provide access to productive, enriching choices that support a life with purpose, and offer the potential for lifetime residency.  The other founding principles include the pledge to nurture long-term, high value relationships between residents and support staff, and to accommodate a broad financial spectrum

The last of the 8 founding principles – perhaps the most unique and interesting aspect of Sweetwater Spectrum –is the attention that the designers paid to the specific needs of individuals with ASD. According to the community’s website, every aspect of the space has been designed minimize the impact of physical stimuli for the residents:

“The physical environment for persons with autism is very important. They are often sensitive to outside stimuli. Sweetwater has been designed with special considerations to minimizing visual stimulation, ambient sound, lighting and odors. There are simple, predictable spaces. Durable materials have been utilized throughout the development.”

For more information on Sweetwater Spectrum, please visit the organization’s website, or subscribe to our Independent Living Program and Housing Project database – this community is one of the 800 independent living programs that is currently listed in the database.

Bittersweet Farms

The second independent living program we will be looking at is Bittersweet Farms. Located in Whitehouse, Ohio, this independent living program provides services for adults as well as adolescents with ASD.

Established in 1983, the organization was the first to provide this type of program for individuals with ASD in the United States. Set on 80 acres of farmland, pastures, and woods, Bittersweet Farms is a housing/living model that is based on providing residents the opportunity to live life with a purpose. The program developers also recognized the “therapeutic value of a rural lifestyle, which includes agricultural activities” and strives to “harness the natural rhythm of living through emphasizing farming as a meaningful, predictable and fitting” way of life.

It is important to know that Bittersweet Farms (named by parents who declared that the adjective “bittersweet” perfectly captured the experience of having a child with ASD) is a working farm that provides supportive living for adults with ASD. In addition to providing services for those that live on the farm, the organization also provides supportive living for individuals who live in their own homes. There are also vocational day programs for adults, and a transitional school year and summer program for adolescents.  Bittersweet has three locations – Whitehouse, Lima, and Pemberville, and currently has a waiting list of 100 individuals.

Bittersweet Farms acts as an international model for organizations that wish to assist individuals with ASD with agricultural/farmstead living, recreation, therapy or employment. Their website is currently under construction, but individuals wishing to learn more can click here to watch an informational video on the organization, or can contact Bitter Sweet Farms directly on Facebook, or by telephone @ (419) 875 6986. Bittersweet Farms is also an entry in our Independent Living Program and Housing Project database.


Cape Cod Village

Cape Cod Village is a shining example of how parents of children with disabilities can channel their skills and their passion to provide a bright future for their children into incredible achievements. Founded in 2011 by Bob and Lauren Jones, this independent living/housing development project is also based on community and integrated residential living. In addition to these two principles, community development plans are also based on six major components – The Commons, Physical Activity/Exercise, Communication, Creative and Expressive Aspect of Life, Music, and Exploring the Natural World.

The Commons will essentially act as the heart of the community; project developers describe this area as “dynamic”, and call it a meeting place for families, friends, community members, etc. Essentially, this component will ensure that every aspect of the community and community life (i.e. recreation, entertaining, etc.) will help to enhance the feeling of community and facilitate neighbor engagement and interaction.

Communication is also an important aspect of this housing development project – the folks at Cape Cod Village have incorporated the incredible and unique ways that individuals with ASD choose to communicate into their development plans, and will make it a guiding principle to “attend to the individual communication needs and styles of all residents and make sure they are listened to and “heard.”

The other four components, Physical Exercise, Creative and Expressive Aspect of Life, Music and Exploring the natural world are all relatively self-explanatory; Cape Cod Village developers feel that a happy productive life is filled with physical activity, which they state “calms the nervous system, helps reduce anxiety, improves mood, enhances sleep, regulates appetite, improves focus & concentration, enhances communication and helps relating with others”. They also emphasize the importance that music and creativity play in emotional and psychological health. Lastly, they feel that it is essential to spend time outdoors, appreciating “natural sensory experiences”. Therefore, at Cape Cod Village, residents will be encouraged participate in activities for each of these four components.

As mentioned, Cape Cod Village is in the development stages. To learn more about this exciting housing project (or to make a donation), please visit the organization’s website. Cape Cod Village is also one of the 800 listings in M&L’s Independent Living Program and Housing Project Database, so subscribers can log into the database for more information as well.

Need Help/More Information?

Throughout this blog, we have made multiple references to our Independent Living Program and Housing Project database. This database is an online special needs housing resource that provides essential information on independent living programs, housing options, special needs organizations, and much, much more from across the United States. For each independent living program in the database, subscribers can access information related to eligibility requirements, financial obligations, and contact information – the three programs we discussed today are included in the more than 800 entries that we currently manage in the database. Our staff ensure that all information is relevant and current, and subscribers are notified of any changes, updates, or new additions to the database. If you are interested in subscribing to this database, please click here for subscription plans. As well, individuals can access information on this unique database by clicking here, or visiting our blog history.

If you would like information on finding special needs communities in general, or on any other special needs financial or life planning topic please do not hesitate to let us know! We are also currently in the process of developing special needs communities in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. – to learn more about this process, or to become a part of this development, please contact us.

Thanks for dropping by our blog – hopefully it has been informative! See you next week.


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