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 new recently released national autism indicators report. First Place serves primarily young adults.
In April, residents moved into 29 Palms Apartments, a development of the Foundation for Senior Living, which co-locates six two-bedroom apartments for adults with autism and 15 affordable multi-generational 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 executive 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 early next year and open in early 2017. The property will be located at 3rd Street & 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 10,000-square-foot 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.”