The Centers for Disease Control estimates that in the United States 730,000 individuals under the age of 21 have Autism Spectrum Disorder.
In just a few years, this wave of autistic children will be reaching adulthood.
Maplewood mom and special education aide Jeannine Contreras likens the coming tide of adults with autism to a tsunami. "The rate of autism has grown tenfold over the last 20 years," writes Contreras, "and yet the shocking reality is that very little planning has gone into what happens when this generation reaches adulthood with no place to go."
Contreras says that in New Jersey there are already thousands of young adults waiting for services due to the lack of agencies that have specialized programs for adults with autism.
To fill the void, seven local families have joined forces to start a nonprofit group called Strive Community to create an adult day program that utilizes evidence-based, best practices for those with autism spectrum disorder. "Getting such a program up and running is a daunting task with the amount of funds required for start up, let alone long term operations. But it’s doable." Contreras says that other programs originally started by parents serve as models—and those pioneering groups are generous in sharing their experience.
Strive Community envisions replicating the gold standard of applied behavior analysis (ABA) set by Princeton Child Development Institute whose program for adults stemmed from parent advocacy. PDCI uses applied behavior analysis in both their day program and family-centered group homes. Quest Autism and Alpine Learning Group have also lent support and advice to Strive Community.
“We all share a commitment to the autism community and to extending best-practices to adult programs,” says Strive parent, Therese Ojibway of Maplewood.
What distinguishes Strive Community is the level of commitment of the families in their personal and professional lives. For example, Lisa Rader of South Orange, who spearheaded the group and now serves as Board president, earned her Masters in Applied Behavior Analysis at Caldwell College and additionally became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in order to work with families in home-based ABA treatment programs. Another Strive parent, Jonah Zimiles, left his law practice and earned an MBA at Columbia University in order to open and operate WORDS Maplewood Bookstore, which provides job-sampling opportunities for adolescents with autism—besides being an awarding winning bookstore!
Contreras says all the Strive Community founding families hold "a deep commitment not only to their own children with autism but to wider the autism community as well. Now as Strive Community, they are united in striving to meet an urgent need for adults with autism: a state of the art adult day program using applied behavior analysis and family-centered residential services."
Strive Community will be holding a fundraising event at Arturo’s the evening of September 12. Just mention Strive Community when you are either dining in or taking out and Arturo’s will donate 10% of its proceeds to Strive.
For further information about Strive, contact Therese Ojibway at (973) 762-1393 or Jeannine Contreras at (973) 761-9119.