29 Acres Community Center (Courtesy: 29 Acres)

Mental Health

Now Open: A Campus That Builds Independence for Adults With Autism

29 Acres addresses the growing need for North Texas autism support services. 

29 Acres, a new supportive living community welcomed 32 adults with autism and neurodiversities to its campus in Denton County this month. Inspired by co-founder Debra Caudy’s son’s needs, 29 Acres addresses a greater need for adult autism support opportunities in the DFW area.

“We want to make a difference for every single person, one person at a time,” Debra Caudy says. “It’s not just a place to come. We want to make sure we’re really impacting people’s lives, their family’s lives, and society at large. It’s a public health crisis.”

“The more independent we teach them to be, the less the societal cost.”

According to Caudy, upon completing high school, 80 percent of adults with autism live at home and don’t work. 29 Acres allows adults with autism who have left the school system to gain independence from parents or families through on-campus living. The two-year transition program offers a suite of amenities to promote social, recreation, and educational enrichment.

“It’s a sad, lonely, and isolating life to live,” Caudy says. “Our support services are an opportunity for people to work on their own, live on their own, and have friends. They just need help accessing those things, and it’s hard for parents to do that alone.”

Support for individual community members varies across the campus. While many people need a significant amount of support to become independent, others already work full-time jobs and only require a small amount of support to succeed. The individualized programs include independent living skills, job readiness, therapeutic recreation, self-advocacy, interpersonal friendships, community navigation, behavioral and emotional well-being, and quality medical care.

“They can still work and be contributing members of society,” Caudy says. “The more independent we teach them to be, the less the societal cost. With our first graduating class in June, 83 percent had jobs when they left and are now living independently. That is a substantial improvement.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the community faced unprecedented challenges in operating safe move-in procedures and maintaining risk mitigation. Before move-in, everyone was asked to quarantine, get tested for COVID-19, and follow community safety policies.

The creation of pods, or small groups, and hiring of additional staff allowed 29 Acres to maintain support services and eliminate cross-over between the organization’s eight houses.

“When you’re in essential services, you have to find a way to keep the world running,” Caudy says. “In our case, we needed to keep supporting our community members to keep their jobs, if possible, and keep them in their houses with independent living.”

With a conservative approach to the pandemic and strict following of CDC guidelines, the community has still been able to offer various recreational and social activities throughout the week, including cooking lessons, movie nights, and scavenger hunts. Unique from other adult autism communities, 29 Acres maintains a one-to-four staff-to-client ratio. The training program includes lessons in banking, cleaning, cooking, and more to help clients live their lives independently in a meaningful way.

“We implement small staff-to-client ratios because that’s how the most gain occurs,” Caudy says. “No two people have the same life plans. We help each person develop short and long-term goals. When they change, we change with them, and our support changes.”

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