Increasing Community Integration
A second area in which center-based programs often need to strive for improvement over time is increasing the provision of community-based activities. Significantly increasing community integration is often a difficult challenge for many center-based programs, due both to agency resource issues and lack of capacity in local communities. Some agencies have begun to address this challenge by organizing activities such that the center begins to function essentially as a central “hub.”
Using a central “hub” approach, adults with autism spend parts of their day in the center (the “hub”) and other parts of their day, either individually or in small groups, involved in activities in the local community. For example, consumers may arrive at the center individually in the morning and then organize into small groups that leave the center to go to community-based jobs. Some groups may work in the community the majority of the day and return to the center only to prepare for transportation to their homes. Other groups may work in the community on a part-time basis, returning to the “hub” for center- based activities for the rest of the day. Other center participants who have unresolved issues that seriously interfere with community-based work (e.g., complex health needs or challenging behavior) may spend major parts of their day in the center and have less frequent community experiences. Such experiences could focus on recreational activities, public service volunteering, and in vivo instruction in community participation skills such as shopping, dining in restaurants, and using public transportation.
Whatever the process for getting there, maximizing community integration generally should be a primary goal for center-based programs. As discussed in the initial chapters, usually the most meaningful activities for adults with autism are those that take place where people normally live, work, and play. The “hub” approach represents a practical process for an agency to move from providing exclusively a center- based service to offering increasing amounts of community integration. Providing truly meaningful and functional activities while adults with autism are present in the center as described in this manual, even if they attend the center only on a part-time basis, can significantly enhance the effectiveness of ongoing efforts to promote community integration.
This manual has provided a structured, evidence-based, step-by-step process for how to make center-based activities for adults with autism more meaningful. Following these steps in the organizations that you work in and/or consult with can help improve the quality of services adults receive there and consequently improve their daily enjoyment, dignity, independence, and quality of life. Organizational change is never easy, but the process works and the effort is worth the resulting improvement for everyone involved.