Should Adults with Autism Live in the City or the Country?

Farm Community

There are some wonderful autism-oriented communities located on farms and out in the countryside. Many people on the spectrum enjoy living in them. But does that mean that adults on the spectrum, in general, are better off outside of a crowded metropolitan area?

The answer -- surprise, surprise -- is "it depends."  It depends, though, on a number of factors.  For example:

  1. What is the quality of the living situation? A beautiful country setting is not worth considering if the housing and staff provided are sub par. Similarly, a downtown setting in a terrific neighborhood may be a terrible option if it's not well-run.
  1. What type of job and/or activities does the autistic person prefer? A person with autism who loves working outdoors is likely to enjoy country setting. But while some people on the spectrum really enjoy fresh air, sunshine, and physical labor, plenty don't. Some are easily overwhelmed by the sensory input of a farm -- from the heat, cold, rain, and humidity to the smells of manure, mulch, and farm animals. And someone who's interested in a job in the tech sector is going to pretty much hate spending his or her days hoeing a garden -- even if the setting is lovely, the staff is supportive, and the situation is safe and caring.
  2. Is a semi-segregated community a good choice for this individual?  In general, farm-based rural autism communities are semi-segregated, meaning that residents are almost all autistic, and most if not all services and activities are provided on campus. Some people with autism enjoy living in a semi-segregated community with other people on the spectrum. Some really need very intensive support because of challenging behaviors.  Many people with autism prefer a consistent routine which can be provided in a semi-segregated setting. Plenty of people autism, however, prefer and can handle a more inclusive setting where they are a part of the larger community.
  1. Where are the autistic person's family members or support community?  While there are some wonderful communities in both the country and the city, neither is a great option if they move an individual far away from his or her center of support. 
  2. Does this individual want/need public transportation? A country-based community is likely to be more or less self-sufficient, meaning that residents are usually either at the community or traveling with others in a community car, van, or bus. A city provides individuals with more autonomy because they have the option of stepping out the door into a commercial area, catching a bus or subway to get to work, etc. A high functioning individual might prefer an urban setting for those reasons -- though he or she may also prefer a country setting with fewer sensory challenges.
  1. How is this individual's housing being funded?  It may be the case that certain housing options in your region or state are fundable through public agencies, while others are private-pay only.  Most families need to make choices based, at least in part, on cost and financial resources. Some of the nicest, most comfortable autism-support communities accept no public funding.
  2. Who ensures that the autistic person's living situation is working well for them on an ongoing basis? As with any setting -- school, employment, a retirement community -- an autism-oriented community is always changing. Last year's terrific room mate could move out, and a terrible room mate could move in. A wonderful director could retire, leaving behind a novice who can't handle complex challenges.It's important that whoever advocates for or with the autistic adult visits on a regular basis, gets to know the staff, and has the knowledge to quickly notice if something is not right.

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