NORMAL — Where adults with autism in McLean County will live when their parents are no longer able to help them will be the focus of two upcoming meetings in Normal.
"A Place for Me — Autism and Housing: Needs & Models for the Future" will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and on March 19 at the Illinois State University Alumni Center, 1101 N. Main St., Normal.
While the meetings are open to anyone, they are geared toward people with autism, their parents and caregivers, their school transition coaches and service providers for people with autism, said Jacquie Mace, president of Autism McLean.
Autism McLean, Marcfirst, H.E.A.L. (Heroes Embracing Autistic Lives) and Friends of The Autism Place are the sponsors.
While no one knows how many people in McLean County have autism, "we speculate there are about 3,000," Mace told The Pantagraph. "There's no real tracking method."
"People on the autism spectrum have many diverse needs," said Kari Sandhaas, chair of the Autism Friendly Community initiative of Autism McLean, Marcfirst and other organizations.
"Some people are able to live independently and others need various levels of support and services," she said. "Many adults with autism live at home with their parents, but families are seeing the need (to) understand and explore future options."
"The biggest fear for any parent of a child with a disability is, 'Who will take care of my child when something happens to me?'" Mace said.
Mace has a son, Austin, 22, who has autism and lives with her in Normal. While he is doing well, Mace has feared that Austin would be institutionalized.
"We need better for our kids," she said.
Autism is a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors and speech and nonverbal communication.
The purpose of the Tuesday meeting will be to discuss housing availability and eligibility and to answer parents' questions, Mace said. The March 19 meeting will begin a conversation about developing a model to meet housing needs.
"Part of the conversation will include determining the level of supports that are needed," Mace said.
A committee of parents and advocates may be formed to explore alternative housing possibilities.
"We look forward to learning from families and adults with autism about what they see as the future for housing development in our community," said Marcfirst CEO Laura Furlong. Marcfirst provides housing, community integration, training and employment services for people with disabilities.
People can register for the meetings at www.facebook.com/events/602706340143159.
"Let's build a community around our kids," Mace said.