A truly disheartening story
has emerged from Queens, New York where Bellerose residents are saying “not in my backyard” to an Astoria nonprofit’s plan to set up a group home for
young adults with autism in their neighborhood. Apparently, another group home exists in
the community, so the neighborhood contends that the proposal constitutes oversaturation. They further hint that the affluent community of Forest Hills hosts a fraction of the group homes that their borough does and
that it’s unfair.
The worst part of this story is that residents call the group home “a foolish and dangerous proposal," particularly objecting to the fact that the proposed site for the home is next to a ball field.
These remarks reveal a shocking level of ignorance towards autism. Indeed, if you replaced the phrase “group home for child sex offenders” for “group home for individuals for autism," you would get the same level of vitriol. A clear voice for autism needs to bring information and sanity to the discussion, so that even if the proposal is denied and the proposed group home must find a new site, the community will be left with a greater appreciation of what it means to have autism and empathy and compassion are the appropriate responses to it. State assembly members have promised to look into the matter of oversaturation.
Who will look into the matter of rampant, unwarranted fear?
I can’t help but be reminded of the new book, "The Science of Evil," by Simon Baron-Cohen. His contention is that individuals with autism are devoid of empathy, while having compensating “systemizing” qualities that damage our children’s cause. Likewise, the recent spate of crime stories featuring individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome creates a false impression that they are risky members of the community.
In point of fact, while a large percentage of individuals with autism have encounters with police, almost none of them are the result of the individual-first committing a crime. This makes the often tragic outcome of these encounters all-the-more heartbreaking. How the press handles autism has a huge impact on
the future of those on the spectrum. and the current trends aren’t looking good.
At a time when more-and-more youngsters with autism will be growing up and aging out of services, the need for public education about autism is greater than ever.
Housing solutions for young adults with autism are among the most pressing needs. Expect an onslaught of situations like the one in Queens if more isn’t done to pave the way for our grown children to be assimilated into their