Humor. It’s a powerful thing that can get us through all kinds of life events, cycles and seasons.

My husband Rob and I recently celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary. Admittedly, the years haven’t always been easy as we’ve navigated a predictably unpredictable life with autism. During some of our most challenging moments, Rob’s humor has kept us laughing through the hard stuff.

I recall a memorable (though forgettable) era of house floods, including one particular Saturday morning when young Matt (diagnosed with autism at age 2) had enjoyed unraveling the toilet paper before flushing it (with the cardboard roll) down the toilet. I also remember the throbbing at my temples as we attempted to contain the water on hands and knees in our living room, the task too challenging for every bucket and towel in the house. Yet, Rob found some humor in it all, turning a pending migraine into hysterical laughter.

A recent communique by Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison conjured other situations where humor saved the day—even years! Gary writes about humor in business and life while reflecting on his early career: “If someone had asked me to describe a great leader, I probably would have said someone with vision, confidence, courage, strategic thinking, a growth mindset… But a sense of humor—not so much. Except humor can be a potent leadership tool when wielded with emotional intelligence—empathy, to know what the other person is going through; authenticity, to see ourselves and others clearly; and humility, to be able to laugh at ourselves.”

He’s right! Indeed, life with autism keeps us empathetic, authentic and humble—and humor can see us through.

With SARRC and First Place, we’ve teamed up with pioneering leaders from around the world throughout the decades—helping to keep us grounded, moving forward and finding all kinds of reasons to smile. Most recently, the First Place Global Leadership Institute partnered with the Autism Housing Network, ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy and a Leadership Advisory Board to create A Place in the World: Fueling Housing and Community Options for Adults with Autism and Other Neurodiversities.

As the go-to source and new narrative for igniting a marketplace of options everywhere, we aim to raise the bar on a new generation of options so that a diagnosis need not stand in the way of friends, jobs, supportive communities—and homes. Through a broader and more robust marketplace, individuals can better match their needs and interests with homes they choose, combined with natural supports and long-term support services. Together, we can and will inform outcomes demonstrating what works, what needs to work better and how supportive policies can better align all sectors.

Thanks to this study, I’m also able to describe Matt in terms others can better understand as a man with moderate support needs living with self-directed support in a consumer-controlled property at First Place–Phoenix. Just as being a senior doesn’t reveal one’s housing needs and wants, neither does a diagnosis of autism, Down syndrome or other intellectual and developmental disabilities.

While I can’t always claim to understand Matt’s humor or his occasional hysterical laughter, I do know his smile can light up a room and inspire a business, SMILE Biscotti. Yet, there are many things people do not see about Matt that are not included in any study but still celebrate his individuality. Here’s are just a few ways we, his parents, describe him:

  • A man of few words but with a lot to say
  • A live-in-the-moment kind of guy who is more interested in playing a game and tying the score than winning
  • Master egg cracker and SMILE biscotti packager
  • Hardworking
  • Spirited and cheerful
  • Kind-hearted—Matt has never done a mean thing to anyone in his life!

Please mark your calendar and join us this spring for the ninth First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium Webinar April 7–8, 2021, when we will gather to map out more priority items for the year(s) ahead—and surely share some smiles along the way!

Every place that holds a special spot in our hearts has a story.

For me, the story of First Place begins with Matt Resnik. I was a green and eager journalist when I first met a young Matt. I wanted to write a story on autism, and what life was like for a family affected by it. All arrows pointed to Denise Resnik as the first call I needed to make.

I flipped open my notepad and filled it with facts, emotions, hopes, dreams and fears. Listening to Matt’s story, my eyes were opened. Matt’s journey, filled with milestones and setbacks, left a mark.

That first story, my favorite magazine piece I’ve written, also detailed the beginning of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC). It captured a place of hope that offers guidance, understanding, answers and opportunities.

It has been more than a dozen years since I first met Matt and I have since told many more stories. But there was one quote that really stood out, one that has been echoed time and again.

“What’s going to happen to Matt when he’s an adult and when I’m no longer able to care for him?” Denise asked.

She asked this question knowing she didn’t have the answer. There wasn’t one out there. Not yet.

Oh, but this place. Yes, this place—First Place takes that open-ended question and gives it an answer. It is the beginning of a new story, a second volume about a monumental voyage.

First Place offers a sense of community, learning, friendship, memories and hope. It is a future—a vision of a future once so fuzzy and unclear that is now bright and possible. And like most places, First Place needs people to help tell its story and I’m honored to help.

This is only chapter one. I am only a storyteller. This place has many stories to tell and I invite you inside to learn more and become a part of this story yourself—from its beginning.

Welcome to First Place. Chapter one: All things possible.

* Ginger Eiden is a First Place Storyteller and an author and journalist from Peoria, Arizona. She has been a volunteer writer for the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) for more than 10 years. She also writes under the name Ginger Scott.