Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
March 25, 1999
Guelph services for the autistic details new model for people living with the disorder
Andrew Bloomfield is a prisoner of autism. For more than half his 31 years, he has lived in a special residential school, a group home, or an institution. According to father Gerry, a U of G geography professor, Andrew was "very unhappy" away from a family home environment, but the strain of near constant care wore heavily on his parents during the periods when he lived with them.
These days, thanks to an initiative of the non-profit Guelph Services for the Autistic (GSA), Andrew is living in his own house near Riverside Park. From there he walks his dogs, travels to work, or to the U of G athletics centre to take part in a special fitness program.
GSA is pioneering the idea of "homesharing" for the autistic. One person with the disorder lives in a house with people of similar interests and age. In exchange for reduced rent, homesharers assist the autistic individual and do some chores while providing companionship and support. Bloomfield and Fred Dahms will detail the success of homesharing to date, and how it might be expanded upon, at an information session and public launch on Monday, March 29, 5:30 p.m. in Room 234 of the U of G's Hutt Building.
Prof. Bloomfield and fellow geographer and GSA board member Dahms came to the homesharing model as a result of government cuts and the realization that often the autistic do not flourish in a group environment. "Successive provincial governments had adopted a policy of de-institutionalizing those in need," says Dahms, "and in some cases closing down entire institutions. Responsibility for care-giving was being downloaded on municipalities, the local community, or on the relatives of the disabled, and without adequate resources to cope. This gave us the impetus for the individualized model."
In 1997, GSA bought a house near Riverside Park. Shortly after, Andrew Bloomfield moved in. After carefully monitoring progress of this first venture, GSA is now ready to explain how the model could be replicated in Guelph and beyond.
Bloomfield, a past president of the Autism Society of Ontario, is delighted with the results both as a parent and a researcher. "This approach is much more humane, and it's a much healthier environment," he says. "The funding cuts and closures were a big part in getting us to where we are today, but as important was recent empirical research which suggests that the more significant an autistic individual's needs, the more individualized the supports have to be. The result is the "person-centred" approach we developed." He also believes that the costs of homesharing are less than the costs of operating group homes.
Psychology professor Mary Konstantareas is a nationally-recognised autism expert. She agrees that the personalized model is preferred. "Contentment, fulfillment and a sense of personal growth for adults with pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), including autism, is enhanced through homseharing," she says. "I wish there were more such homes."
Optimally, GSA would like to set up one home per year with an autistic individual as principal occupant. The key is finding homes that are flexible enough to meet the needs of those who will live there, and finding the right sort of homesharer. The ideal candidate is reliable, compassionate and mature, and willing to encourage the autistic "focus" person to do things for his or herself, rather than doing it for them.
In the 21 months Andrew Bloomfield has been living at his house, life has never been better . "The neighbourhood has been wonderfully accepting," notes Bloomfield, "and Andrew takes great pride in welcoming visitors to his home, because it is his home." Andrew also relies on a strong support cluster of volunteers and services from within the community.Andrew doesn't speak, but is very active.
Twenty-two of every 10,000 Canadians have autism. The causes remain unknown, and while research continues, as yet there are no effective medical treatments or methods of prevention. Those who suffer from the disorder usually have impaired social, communication and thinking functions, but can function remarkably well in familiar, caring surroundings and with meaningful work and recreational activities.
The GSA public meeting and launch will take place 5:30 p.m., Monday, March 29, Room 234 of the Hutt Building.
Profs. Bloomfield and Dahms are available to discuss the GSA's homesharing model. Bloomfield is at (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3530, Dahms at Ext. 3498. Prof. Konstantareas can talk about autism in general, at (519) 824-4120, Ext. 2641. This release was prepared by Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338/6982.