Fifty years ago, autism was only diagnosed in one out of every 10,000 children. Now, the Centers for Disease Control says one in 68 children has the developmental disorder.
That creates a big concern for aging parents as they ask themselves "what's next" for their child with autism.
Daily tasks get an extra pair of hands inside Creole House, Louisiana's first home for autistic adults. "This home is their home for the rest of their lives and we want it to be family for them," said Geri Landry, founder of Autism Services of Southwest Louisiana.
Creole House is a labor of love for Landry, 50 years after her own nephew's diagnosis. "He can multiply five digits by five digits before you can put it in the calculator," said Landry, "but like my sister Ruth says, 'so what. Can he go to the grocery store with a $20 bill, buy groceries and know what his change is going to be?' That's the life skill that he needs."
Landry's nephew, Joseph Sullivan, was born in Lake Charles and now lives in West Virginia. He is highly intelligent, even the center of a Hollywood study for the big screen. "Joe is the young man Dustin Hoffman studied to do the Rain Man movie and all of the characteristics of someone with autism," said Landry.
Those characteristics are what make autism a highly individualized diagnosis, needing specialized care for a lifetime. "What's going to happen to our kiddos when we're gone and there's no one there to take care of them?" said Landry.
That is the question Landry was hearing from parents of autistic children. $400,000 was raised to build this home, tailored to the needs of adults with autism and the 24-hour caregivers like house supervisor, Gina Tracy. "You have to be sensitive to each need, whether it be their personal activities or daily living," said Tracy, "you definitely have to be more sensitive in their personal space."
Each room is created for one adult, with a private bathroom, walk-in closet and entertainment center. Medicaid waivers fund the one-on-one staff, something Krystal McGuire with Autism Services says is critical to client success. "Having this one-on-one staff with them constantly out in the community allows for them to do the day-to-day things that you and I would do," said McGuire, "whereas if they didn't have that they would be at home, sitting on the couch, being unproductive."
The need is great. Creole House is one of only two homes in Southwest Louisiana for autistic adults and the list of those with aging caregivers is growing. "We have a waiting list and think of the numbers today," said Landry, "what kind of waiting list will we have in the future?"
Four adults live in Creole House, and two more live in a nearby home. Autism Services of Southwest Louisiana closes on a third house this week that will be home to three more adults with autism.
You can help raise money and show your support for autism services in our community on Saturday, April 26th. The "Joining Hands for Autism" 5K and one mile walk/run is happening at ICCS on Ryan Street.
Click here to learn more about Autism Services of Southwest Louisiana.