Tag Archives: community

From housing model to home: five years later.

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Through the grove beside the pasture, a well-worn path now leads down the hill to Home

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and another worn footpath, now the shortcut to Ray, Pete and Brent’s house


In the summer of 2010, we painted the newly rehabbed 4 bedroom house a
forest green. We fenced two acres of pasture and moved in two alpacas, five cashmere goats and a bunch of chickens. Over the next 10 months we got to know eight (yes 8!) pretty cool guys and their families. 

Five years later, and these same eight guys are still around.  There are five guys living here at a time now, here on the Hill.. in two different houses.  All eight of the guys have spent time living with each other here.  Some have left… and returned, left again… or moved to their own apartments, or gone home with family for health reasons. But still… on Wednesdays and birthdays, most of the original 8 guys are together. Celebrating milestones together, working together (well, a little!), going on trips together, hanging out on market day in the Juniper Hill booth together, talking together, eating together, just being good friends… together.

June 2015 Celebrating Patrick's one year anniversary in his own apartment!

June 2015 Celebrating Patrick’s one year anniversary living in his own apartment!

The ease of their interactions is obvious… how sensitive they are to each other’s moods, and how much they care if someone is not having a good day. The support they give to each other, the shared humor, shared food, and shared history.  The brotherly bickering and how quickly it gets resolved. The level of confident independence at which they move through their day … with each other for company and support.

Five years ago, we began as a Housing Model.  We are a family now, and Juniper Hill Farms is a Home. It’s different, and it comes with complications.

For the last five years, the slide below has been the final point made in the Juniper Hill Farms presentations that I’ve done for family groups, housing, or autism organizations.

‘Our goal is to help other families feel capable of creating a living situation like this for their family member’

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Seriously, ‘Our‘ goal?  Wait, let me check with the guys.  Hmmm I don’t think so.

It was, and still is one of MY goals. Learning from these guys about life? It’s still exciting every single day.  I laugh, I get frustrated, I philosophize, I have fun.  Every experience with them shapes the story of how to create a life of ‘inter’dependence and happiness for an adult with autism… a story that will hopefully encourage other families to give it a try. In five years, the learning curve has not leveled off, not in the least. It continues to show the increasing complexity of an independent life with autism, and how rich that life can be for them as well as for everyone around them who is lucky enough to be along for the ride.

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Celebrating Michael’s birthday (really Ray is having fun!)

The guys, however? They now have other interests. And priorities.They really just want to get on with their lives.

We had so many visitors that first year.  We had an open bedroom so that we could welcome interested guys who were looking for more independence and who wanted to see what that felt like for a week or two, or a month or two. Its scary to just make a move… much easier to just test the waters. So just come to Juniper Hill to try it out!  It was a really good idea, at the time.

We also had families and groups of people from related fields visiting to see what we were doing.  The guys were used to strangers coming in and out.

and actually … well, they were strangers as well!

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Check out this year’s new variety… Greenburst!

Brand new to the living situation, we all did the best we could. There were not a lot of established routines that first year… everything was a trial run and we worked out kinks every day.  We learned how to take care of animals and we tried to grow sunflowers. We had dinner together every night, went on fun trips together, argued and worked things out. We became friends with the staff, and with each other. Semi-organized chaos, that first year or two.

Then slowly, things began to change.

First the comfort level, then the trust, began to build.  That’s when everyone started to get their own ideas about things.  They started talking to each other, instead of just to the staff and me.  They made their own plans.

Fast forward five years. It’s now September, 2015!

IMG_4048These days, what we have on ‘the Hill’ is  community.  And we have a home, and a family. It is not that different from most other people’s homes. Everyone here has a life that involves getting out into the wider community every day.. where they work, volunteer, exercise, shop and eat.  Just like most people.  They come home each day and sit around the dinner table and shoot the sh*t. They grab a bowl of ice cream, their IPad, or ‘their’ seat in front of the TV and watch movies.  Or documentaries.  Or animated funny stuff with raunchy jokes. On weekends they sleep late…. hang out with the animals… take care of their home…walk to the creek. Just like most people.

So… what’s the problem?

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yes.. this is the staff schedule in the house.

Try to imagine people showing up in your kitchen at 9 in the morning. Every. Single. Day. 9AM. When you just want to grab a glass of orange juice in your Hello Kitty pajama sweat pants and go back to bed and read a book  (hey, there is more than just one of us with Hello Kitty pajamas..) We love the staff.  Just not always at 9AM.

And how about MEETINGS??  Looking forward to coming home from work in mid-afternoon and taking a nap on the couch?  There are five people who are a part of your housemate’s ‘team’ sitting on it already. YOUR couch, not theirs.

and WEDNESDAYS!!  When our best friends come over,  and our former housemates.  and each person’s staff.  and people doing community service.  and volunteers. and everyone is trying to talk at once and the house is not big enough and people are trying to cook lunch and staff are catching up with each other and both bathrooms are OCCUPIED at the same time and no one really feels like ‘volunteering’ anymore because they just want to hang out. and EAT. No wonder it’s sometimes the day of meltdowns and hiding in bedrooms. But.. we LOVE Wednesdays too. Wednesdays are how we BECAME this community. (and we do get some sunflowers planted…. and watered…).

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Meet Ethan! He came to visit the farm with his parents this summer, and stayed to try it out for a few months. He is now well known as ‘the chicken guy’ at the market. And he is going to settle in with us for the winter, at least!

Families call regularly and ask to visit the farm. There are so many young people on the spectrum who are coming of age and want to have a life independent from their parents.  There are also so many aging parents who wonder what plans to make for their adult child. Farm life sounds good to many of them, and most people want to see it for themselves.

So we are planning better now.  Most meetings can happen at Starbucks (better coffee too), or the supports coordinator’s office, or outside on the picnic table.  (Anyplace but the couch.  Or the kitchen table!)

and visitors.. feel free to come on Wednesdays… we will feed you! and occasionally during the week we will sneak you in when it’s quiet.  Just don’t come on the weekends, that’s pajamas time.

IMG_5363We look ‘bigger’ on the internet… on this blog, our Facebook page, our YouTube and Instagram.  We look ‘bigger’ in pictures.. pictures of sunflowers, and pictures of great food, pictures of our booth at the weekly farmers market, and group photos with our animals and friends.

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5 years later, and the furniture is looking well used. This is where Andy’s heel sits.

Really… we are just a home.  Not so different from yours. It gets kind of confusing  to entertain so much of the time.

and…well…. we don’t always want to dust. That’s all.

See you on…… Wednesdays!

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Yesterday, this black swallowtail butterfly emerged from its cocoon. We have been watching it all week! It seemed like a good metaphor for this post.

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Autism Celebrations, Acceptance, and Community Living

‘There are new rules and guidelines for Home and Community Based Services being drafted that will dictate what type of living and working situations Medicaid dollars will fund for people with disabilities. There is language in the new rules and guidelines that is a threat to the farmstead model. There are disability advocates who believe that farms are by their very nature isolating and that people with disabilities living on a farm will be tantamount to living in an institution…..we at AACORN Farm disagree!’ (Catherine Pinto, founder).   And we at Juniper Hill Farms disagree as well!!

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50 candles on Pete’s birthday cake today!  Yellow cake with buttercream frosting with a banana cream pie on the side, as per Pete’s request that he made LAST week at Andy’s birthday celebration.  25 or so of Pete’s closest friends sang Happy Birthday and cheered as all 50 candles were blown out.  Presents included cans of crab, sardines and oysters as well as doggie treats for Shauna and Pete’s favorite Lemon Ginger Tea.  After cake, we pulled names out of a basket to see who our $5 Secret Santa will be for next week’s holiday party…. And then? Our bellies full of cake and homemade macaroni and cheese, we made the weekly mass exodus off of Juniper Hill for Winter Wednesdays afternoon bowling.

There have been birthdays almost every week since Jose kicked off the birthday season on September 20th… and now after the holidays in January we will have Karen, Patrick, Rebecca, John, and Aggie for 5 birthday weeks in a row.  We’re thankful that we are a community of mostly winter birthdays, or we would never get summer sunflowers planted!

lp.aspxCelebrations happen naturally here on the Hill. There is a momentum that can
not be avoided, an unspoken ‘rule’ … that HERE is where we celebrate.  Here in the loud, crowded, somewhat worn and disheveled dining/family room right off of the always chaotic Juniper Hill kitchen.  A poster on the wall quotes Emma from Emma’s Hope Book …. ‘Helpful Thoughts of Calming Kindness’… wise, poetic words reminding us all to STAY CALM. Through weekly meltdowns, drama, and anxiety… it all comes together somehow. It doesn’t exactly ‘STAY’ together… ever… but it does ‘come together’ each week,  and by the following week everyone is ready to do it again.

Four years ago … in the beginning…… the question ‘How does an adult with a disability celebrate holidays and birthdays once they are living independently in the community?‘ was not considered.  The first six months involved setting up services and support people , finances, pots and pans and furniture. Logistics.

Then all of a sudden, birthdays happened.  And holidays.

But actually … mostly nothing happened.

NOW WHAT?  This was not part of the plan! Families would call and make the effort, but it was often difficult to be available on an actual birthday.  Staff was gone on holidays and there was no guarantee that a birthday would fall on the same day as scheduled staff. And wasn’t I supposed to be ‘just the landlord’?  Who was going to make this happen? And whose responsibility was it to help the other guys acknowledge their housemate’s birthday?

Just HOW important was this, to make sure that celebrations happen for each person? It was glaringly obvious… celebrations were at the top of everyone’s list here. The idea of taking on that responsibility was overwhelming.

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How do neurotypical adults celebrate?  They call up friends, or friends call them. They’ve stayed in touch with friends from high school or college. They have gotten to know their neighbors socially, or their co-workers, or their church. They make plans.  They initiate.  They drive themselves home for Thanksgiving. There is an entire multi-generational community that sustains itself without too much effort.

But these guys, and many other independent adults with a disability… don’t.  They don’t initiate.  They don’t drive. They have rarely stayed in touch with school friends. It is difficult to pursue social relationships on their own, whether in the neighborhood or at the workplace. Their aging parents do their best to pick them up for family events and drive them back home again afterwards.  Sisters and brothers stay involved the best they can, but they are raising families of their own.

And for many many people, living independently in the community with a disability… they spend these special occasions alone.

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So why does this work here at the farm?

What we really DO have here is  a community… after 4 years of working together, 4 years of eating together, 4 years of living together or just being together for a few hours each week. That’s all it took.  Just real life…  and familiarity, true friendship and trust.

We have a community… and they want to CELEBRATE!

So we do, together.  ALL. THE. TIME.

Something else happened today, another incident that embodies the importance of the relationships that exist within the Juniper Hill community.

One of the guys kind of ruined the bowling event today, for most everyone there. It involved LOUD melting down, blaming and bullying of others.  Upon returning to the Hill, he disappeared for three hours.  Around the farm, into the woods, or up in the other house at the top of the hill…. he went somewhere (because on a farm, there is space. There is room to be alone, to have your quiet space, to reflect without interruption.  Another bonus of country life.)… The rest of us feasted on some pretty amazing leftovers for dinner, put up Christmas lights, and sang Christmas carols with YouTube videos.  Actually, I had absolutely nothing to do with the singing part, that was INITIATED (yes, they initiate now) by the others.

***(just a side note about having the word ‘bully’ in quotation marks.  This guy, this quotation marked ‘bully for an hour’ is the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate and generous guy you will ever meet.  But not during a meltdown. No one is. That’s why it is called a meltdown).

They were rocking the Christmas Spirit here… when the afternoon melt down **’bully’ returned.  And here’s how it all transpired….

No judgement.  No complaints.  No mention of the afternoon meltdown.  It was over, after all.

Instead, there was a pretty amazing welcoming reception because the leftovers that were the most coveted had been cooked by the ‘bully’ the day before.  Everyone raved about the ‘accidental chicken stew’ (he had intended to make soup!).  Then they served up leftover birthday cake, found enough space on the couches for everyone PLUS the dog… and watched three Christmas movies in a row.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t been wrong.  It wasn’t that it hadn’t been a big deal at the time it happened.  Feelings had been hurt, people had been made to feel uncomfortable.  Tomorrow, he’ll probably talk about it and think of some ways to possibly avoid it next time.

EVERYBODY here does this, or something like it.  There is such comfort in this knowledge. They all have their stuff (me too!) . We have all needed to be forgiven and accepted.  Regularly, actually. And everyone works hard every day to keep it together. Everyone is doing the best they can, and most of the time we all understand that…. three hours later.

We do community AND forgiveness, AND acceptance…. really really well here.

Dear Center for Medicaid/Medicare Services… Please don’t take this away from us, just because we live on a farm and not in what is considered a traditional ‘community’ setting.  Don’t change this life we have built here, just because most of the people here have autism and you think that we should be living closer to more non-autistic people.  This IS a community setting, and we do ‘community’ better than most anybody.

Please…

Rethink ‘Community’.

Opening Day of Winter Wednesday Bowling 3 weeks ago!

Autism and the Food Police… The right to eat too many doughnuts (or cream puffs).

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Oh MAN!  Someone just broke open the new box of cream puffs that were defrosting for dessert and ate 10 of them!  And now there are 5 more of us who are going to have to split the remaining 15… sigh.  Such is life here.  

I often feel like the ‘food police’ here at the farm… it is NOT my favorite role.  It is a constant goal of mine to find that place where I am not just the ‘bad guy’, that place where I can be the mediator, mentor, and EQUAL housemate… all at the same time.   It is an ongoing effort to maintain the budget while still making sure that everyone’s rights are respected.  Everyone’s.  THAT right there is the key, and what makes this a realistic situation from which everyone learns. There are six of us, we live together, we are friends and housemates.  Everyone here exercises their right to choose, within the constraints of a sharing household.  It’s complicated!  But each day I am reminded that the living situation for the guys here on the Hill is comprised of a set of ideal circumstances where I can allow many issues to take care of themselves at this point. That’s way better than being the Food Police!

Four years ago (FOUR YEARS!  WOW…) this would not have worked.  Four years ago, everyone wanted what they wanted when they wanted it… and had no interest in considering the others.  Food and drink, television, music, bathroom time … all came with an expectation. The expectation that things would remain showermanthe same as they had been.  No one had ever lived in a group situation like this before. The entire gallon of iced tea in the fridge? It could be consumed on a hot day in one sitting… (and without using a glass).  Same with that gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough. And on a chilly day, you could stay in the shower so long that you ran out of hot water, all by yourself. You could blast heavy metal music in the living room whenever you wanted, and you got to pick the car music on trips. And sit in the front seat. And at home when the football game started at 8PM you could pick up the remote and just change the channel…

NOT.

Actually, all of these things have happened.  Some of them still do.  At first it was frustrating for me. (Having someone walk into the room where I was watching a movie and just change the channel… really?) I struggled with ‘suppressing’ my natural responses… not easy with my blunt, straightforward and LOUD New York upbringing! The guys struggled as well. They struggled with changing their expectations… and at the same time they struggled with all the new, conflicting feelings of ……

1. REALLY REALLY wanting to eat as much as they wanted (and take long showers, and hog the TV…)

2. Not wanting to get ‘in trouble’ from not just me but five other people as well

3. Wanting to please the friends that they cared about (which probably wasn’t ALL of the housemates, but at least some!) and

4.  Caring about doing the right thing.

Some days I can’t believe this, but it is true. Four years really is time enough to learn trust.  With trust comes patience… and acceptance… and tolerance for the things that annoy you… and consideration.  We have all learned that here. When someone forgets these ‘social rules’  now… it’s OK.  Well kinda OK. Almost OK.

Tonight, after the initial cream puff shock (honestly, I was the only one that seemed upset about it…) we talked about being truly independent and learning impulse control even when no one is watching… just because it’s the right thing to do (for lots of reasons.. weight and health … respect for others… budget…). Impulse control, it’s a work in progress.  Here on the Hill, we are mostly still in the ‘not wanting to get in trouble from roommates’ stage.  But now, everyone is somewhat willing to at least admit that that’s the motivation, especially after an actual back and forth conversation based on mutual respect and trust (lectures don’t work!  and they shouldn’t..).    That’s progress, really!

But back to the cream puffs…. In 1990, as a reaction to the excessive amount of control that some service providers exert over the lives of the people in their care, a paper came out in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis about the right of a person with a disability to ‘eat too many doughnuts’ if he or she felt like it, to be balanced with the need for efficient habilitation (habilitation=support from staff)  in making safe and healthy choices.  Here is the link to the article:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1286212/

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Although dated, the article itself makes some good points.  For a long time however, I have felt that the term ‘the right to eat too many doughnuts’ has been misused by well-meaning non-disabled ‘advocates’ who want to ensure the rights and self determination of people with disabilities.  It seems to me that it is over -simplification to encourage a person with a disability into choices that he or she may not have wanted to make if given more information about the consequences of that choice in the first place. (Yes, this is one of my soap boxes!).

It is a privilege now to be here at the farm, in this community with the guys, where the passing of time has allowed the natural consequences of our choices to be well-understood. And what are the results of this knowledge?  Sometimes we eat our share of cream puffs.  Sometimes, well, we sneak more than our share. And sometimes, we bargain our way into getting somebody else’s share if we have something they want more.  Fair is fair!

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And every so often, somebody blows his entire budget, or his diet, on a pig-out party and spends every last cent on large quantities of chips and soda and ice cream.  And the best part? Now the experience is always shared with others …. it’s way more fun that way….and it usually  involves a Dinosaur Discovery or Sci Fi Channel marathon and a big mess to clean up in the living room.  Tomorrow.

and THAT is CHOICE.

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I just ate three cream puffs while writing this. I really want more.