Thanks to improved healthcare and a greater understanding of their needs, individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities are living longer. However, with just 2 percent of autism research focused on seniorhood, many families are left facing an uncertain future as their loved one ages.
In an effort to provide stability and security for both older participants and their families, Eden Autism is proud to launch one of the first programs in the state designed to address the needs of aging adults with autism.
This July will see the opening of Schalks Crossing, Eden’s day center for adults who are transitioning to retirement age, are ready for retirement, or have significant medical needs.
“Children and young adults come to mind when many people think of individuals with autism. Not only do those individuals become adults, but they become senior citizens with all of the challenges that go along with aging – on top of those associated with their autism diagnosis,” said Eden Autism President and CEO Michael Decker. “Next year is our 45th year of service and many of the individuals we began supporting as children are now reaching retirement. We remain committed to them and their families as they reach yet another milestone.”
Located in the heart of Plainsboro, Schalks Crossing will occupy premium placement in Plainsboro Plaza, home to over thirty-five shops and restaurants within walking distance for participants and staff.
Schalks Crossing will open with twenty-eight participants, and the center allows for expansion of up to forty. This is Eden’s third day center and the first to open in Middlesex County. Eden also operates day centers in Hamilton and West Windsor.
A focus on aging
The average life expectancy for people with a developmental disability was just 22 years in 1931, according to the Association on Aging with Developmental Disabilities. Today, people are living well into their senior years. While this is a tremendous improvement, families and providers must work to ensure that older individuals with autism are able to maintain a high quality of life well into their senior years.
Since its founding, Eden Autism has provided a range of community-based services to meet specific needs throughout the lifespan. The opening of Schalks Crossing will allow Eden to continue that mission by addressing the unique needs of an aging participant population.
Unlike Eden’s other adult service programs that primarily focus on employment skills, Schalks Crossing will help participants transition to retirement. Increased emphasis on activities of daily living, recreation and leisure, participation in community activities, and volunteerism will be the programmatic focus.
As individuals age out of the workforce, employment is no longer at the forefront of their daily routine. The new day center will help older participants learn skills that will keep them engaged and fulfilled.
“When our participants transition away from working, we have to create functional skills to replace the time spent on employment,” said Rachel Tait, Chief Program Officer. “Our program will be focused on teaching these additional skills that can be used as our participants move from an emphasis on employment, to looking forward to their retirement years.”
Arts and crafts, exercise, computer skills, and cooking are among the activities that will be emphasized for participants at Schalks Crossing. In addition, the center’s walkability to multiple shops and restaurants will allow the participants to stay active within the community.
“With the opening of Schalks Crossing, we are one of the first organizations in the field to address what the need is for seniorhood,” said Tait. “We hope the model we develop will be used by other organizations to help all families feel more at ease as their loved one ages.”
Nursing services, speech therapy, and clinical support will also be available at Schalks Crossing, and all programming will be based in Applied Behavior Analysis.
Celebrate our grand opening
To help celebrate our most recent effort to improve the lives of individuals with autism, we will host a ribbon cutting Thursday, Aug. 15 at 10 a.m. Front and center will be Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu and Mark Berkowsky, Community Trustee of Eden. Berkowsky has been instrumental in the development of Schalks Crossing and has contributed significantly to its realization.
“The importance of adapting to the needs of those we support and lending our experience to other members of the autism services community cannot be understated,” said Decker. “I am grateful for the leadership of our dedicated board and to our committed staff for making it possible for Eden to step up our efforts toward the well-being of the eldest among us.”
Please join us in recognition of this important milestone in Eden’s mission to improve the lives of people with autism, one individual at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time.
Click here for the online registration form. Please RSVP by August 1.