PHOENIX (April 28, 2015) – Adults with autism have moved into the beta site for the First Place Transition Academy, one of three components of the future First Place mixed-use residential property in Phoenix.  The Academy is teaching independent living, career development and social skills for a population that experiences a “services cliff” after high school, according to a recently released national autism indicators report. First Place serves primarily young adults.

Earlier this month, residents moved into 29 Palms Apartments, a development of the Foundation for Senior Living, which co-locates eight two-bedroom apartments for adults with autism and 13 affordable multigenerational housing units. Watch this video about First Place and the 29 Palms beta site.

“First Place is a home for my son to thrive and contribute to the broader community,” says parent Bonnie Kluger. “First Place is supplementing the skills he already has to advance him on the road to independence.”

“We are thrilled resident students are moving in and experiencing independent living for the first time,” said Jeff Ross, First Place program director. “Participants have completed a seven-week orientation and continue to learn skills from their independent living classrooms, also known as apartments.  They’re also learning about community life that includes grocery shopping, navigating transportation, applying for a job and expanding their social networks.”

First Place and the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) are collaborating on the two-year First Place Transition Academy, which teaches functional life skills from 29 Palms, provides paid work internships throughout the community and offers independent living courses on site and through SARRC’s Vocational & Life Skills Academy.

“The program aims to teach individuals the skills they need to live independently in their own homes as well as establish and maintain competitive employment,” says Paige Raetz Ph.D., Residential Transition Academy Director at SARRC.

Half of the new student participants have moved into 29 Palms.  More prospective students are now being assessed and interviewed to determine if the Academy is a good match for their next step into adult life. Annual tuition, which covers rent, classes, individualized services and activities, is $42,000/year.

The new Academy participants will live at the beta site and have the option to live at the new First Place mixed-use residential development, expected to break ground in Phoenix in 2016 and open in early 2017. The property will be located at 3rdStreet & Catalina, within walking distance to public transit and light rail.  Envisioned as a replicable model offering an innovative approach to housing, First Place combines three complementary components: First Place Apartments (for residents), First Place Transition Academy (for students), and First Place Leadership Institute (a facility for service providers, professionals and physicians).

The First Place Leadership Institute already includes a national faculty, advancing the continuing education and training of support service providers. Valerie Paradiz, Ph.D., the director of the Autistic Global Initiative, is serving as the curriculum specialist for the First Place Leadership Institute and member of its national faculty.

“As individuals with autism grow into young adulthood, we are embarking on a journey toward solutions. First Place is one of those solutions,” Paradiz said. “Our curriculum is finding positive, refreshing and thoughtful ways to help individuals with autism be more independent.”

Providing a local post-high school option is critical for adults with autism. New research from A.J. Drexel Autism Institute’s Life Course Outcomes Research Program details that youth entering adulthood experience a “services cliff,” or a steep drop-off in services. Key findings of the National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood include:

According to Paul Shattuck, PhD, leader of the Life Course Outcomes Research Program and an associate professor at Drexel,and member of the First Place Leadership Institute faculty, “Over half of young adults work, and about one-third continue their education. Some do both. But one-third of all young adults with autism do neither. They are disconnected from the outcomes that special education was targeting.”

Refer to this Autism Indicators link for a complete copy of the report: https://drexel.edu/autisminstitute/research-projects/research/ResearchPrograminLifeCourseOutcomes/indicatorsreport/.

“A.J. Drexel Autism Institute’s new research report clearly defines the issues First Place and SARRC are addressing.  Residential experiences combined with continuing education and real community experiences will help ensure more adults with autism enjoy the quality of life they desire and that parents like me dream about for our loved ones,” said Denise D. Resnik, First Place founder, board chair and president, and SARRC co-founder.

About First Place

First Place is a nonprofit organization advancing innovative residential options for adults with autism and related disorders. Plans are underway for a mixed-use residential prototype for the individuals who live there, people who work and learn there, and family and friends that come and go. Led by private sector principles, First Place aspires to be a replicable model promoting collaboration among the private, public and nonprofit sectors, and a catalyst for advancing federal public policy focused on housing solutions for special populations.  First Place celebrates neuro-diversity, independent living and a path toward opening doors for more real estate options. For more information or to apply for the First Place Academy beta program at 29 Palms, visitwww.firstplaceaz.org.

About SARRC

Established in 1997, the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to autism researcheducation, evidence-based treatment and community outreach. We are one of the only autism organizations in the world that provides a lifetime of services for individuals and their families while conducting cutting-edge research. More information is at www.autismcenter.org.

By Valerie Paradiz, PhD, First Place Curriculum Specialist

As a person on the spectrum and as a parent of a 24-year-old son with autism, I like to take time during Autism Awareness Month to reflect on the amazing accomplishments our community has achieved. Like the inevitability of spring, I have grown to trust our resilience in seeking and finding answers to the challenges that we face together. For example, we know so much more about educational methods in 2015 than we did when Elijah first began early intervention more than 20 yeas ago. As his generation has grown into young adulthood, it’s very clear that we are embarking on yet another journey toward solutions. This time, the solutions we find will be in adult services. How will we create enough housing and jobs? How will we develop supports that allow the remarkable diversity of spectrum adults to thrive across the life span?

I keep an eye out for such solutions, just as earnestly as when I looked for the first snowbells in spring. One treasure I have found is First Place Arizona, a new, mixed-use residential community for adults with autism and other special abilities, located in the heart of Phoenix. I recently had the opportunity to spend the month of March at First Place’s beta-site, 29 Palms, where 12 young adults with autism will be living and learning together in a multigenerational apartment community that includes seniors as their neighbors. If it’s possible to find a snowbell in the desert, then First Place is it.

The beta site at 29 Palms is the result of more than a dozen years of research and community development led by First Place founder, Denise Resnik. Like me, Denise is also a parent of a young adult on the spectrum. She has a stunning track record of excellence, having co-founded the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), serving as its visionary leader for nearly 20 years. SARRC is collaborating closely with First Place and is operating the Transition Academy program.

I felt honored to join Denise’s team at First Place to co-develop a two-year curriculum for young adults on the spectrum who are leaving their parents’ home for the first time. This curriculum is the backbone of the First Place Transition Academy, and as you’ll see in the video, the guys living at the beta site are thrilled to be living in their first place, while learning all the skills they need to do so. First Place is not a group home, congregate care, a licensed facility or an institution! It is wholly different from the models that we have known from the past in housing and adult services and transcends some of the entrenched approaches to support that have become broken or that simply do not work for people with autism.

As the beta site gets underway, plans for constructing First Place are also moving into full swing. First Place has launched a $25 million capital campaign representing a mix of philanthropy, impact investment loans and a New Markets Tax Credit, further demonstrating nonprofit, private and public collaboration. Momentum is building and a year-end campaign completion is expected. 

In addition to the Transition Academy for 32 students annually, First Place will house a Leadership Institute empowered by centers for training and education, real estate, research and public policy. Additionally, First Place will co-locate 50, one and two-bedroom apartments on the property for adults with autism and other special abilities, and resident graduate and doctoral student fellows.

Please join us on this groundbreaking journey… Learn more at www.firstplaceaz.org and follow us on FaceBook too.