Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Georgia town in conflict over planned facility for autistic adults

From 11 Alive TV in Atlanta, Ga.:

A city council meeting Nov. 15 became the center of a hot-button debate about the treatment of those with autism.

The Milton City Council approved the rezoning of a chunk of Deerfield Parkway to become a transitional facility for adults with autism -- including a vocational school for students more than 18 years of age and an assisted living facility called Watercolors Transition with 72 studios.

But it didn't come without ardent opposition from advocates and parents in the autism community, who spoke out against the project.

"It is ripe for abuse and neglect," said Rita Young, Director of Public Policy and Education for AADD, "and for the behaviors to really escalate."

Several parents said they found the idea counter-productive, essentially encouraging those with autism to turn away from the rest of the society. One added, "I find it offensive."

But Rick Swanson, the architect of the facility that would be among the first of its kind nationally, says the research he's done -- including numerous interviews with those in the autism community -- has found massive support for the project, some of which came from supporters in Milton Monday evening.

It's a complex issue because autism is a complex subject. Those affected range from higher-functioning to lower-functioning, and one treatment does not fit all.

"Not all mental disabilities are created equal," Swanson said, "and you can't pigeonhole everyone into one specific service."

At Monday's meeting, Swanson pledged to speak with many of the detractors in the community to try to find some common ground.