Cultivating Supportive, Inclusive Communities

(October 2019 Series, Blog #2) 

It’s hard to imagine a time when air conditioning was a unique marketing feature of Phoenix homes. Few can live without it today in the Valley of the Sun. Perhaps there will also be a time when we no longer need to acknowledge a community as being autism-friendly, neuro-inclusive, integrated and diverse—because all communities will be that way.

During the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Housing Working Group meeting earlier this summer in D.C., I was humbled to learn of all the innovative initiatives happening across the country. The meeting was chaired by fellow pioneer and longtime, distinguished IACC Chair Alison Tepper Singer, founder and president of the Autism Science Foundation and treasurer of the National Council on Severe Autism.

Observing Alison’s leadership in action and surrounded by passionate leaders from across the country pursuing big dreams and ideas, it was clear we need a marketplace of options to address the diverse and ever-increasing demand—not a one-size-fits-all approach. Beyond product offerings, no one sector alone is able to do all the heavy lifting. And there’s no way to tackle the enormous issues and opportunities before us until we speak the same language, ask the right questions—and answer them, too.

At the present time, we can address several pressing concerns, including the creation of a universal nomenclature and segmentation; well-trained direct support and service providers in response to the human resource crisis; data on and drivers of outcomes, ensuring we’re moving the needle on quality of life; marketplace reports identifying demand and economic and societal impact; and the need for modeling what it means to build, cultivate and sustain a neuro-diverse and neuro-inclusive community.

Innovation is necessary to develop and expand housing options for special populations and build communities that support them. Real estate development and property operations are complex and must include sound financial frameworks, legal agreements, community policies, operational infrastructures and so much more. Community development is also key to connect people to employment, healthcare, recreation, lifelong learning and our perfectly imperfect communities that need to know and appreciate what autism is and is not.

Collectively, we must all understand what’s in demand, what’s buildable and sustainable, what can be scaled and expanded through public, private, nonprofit and philanthropic collaboration, and—just as important—what it takes to cultivate a community that is accepting, understanding and enabling of neuro-diversity in all its many forms. That’s what community is all about!

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