Oh, The Things You Can Think! Working Together for People with Autism

By Denise D. Resnik


While Dr. Seuss was very much part of my childhood, I never memorized or retained more than a few lines of my favorites. Not so for our son Matt, who recites every story from cover to cover and does the same with his favorite videos and movies- from Steven Spielberg’s “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West” and Walt Disney’s storybook and video collection to “Captain Planet,” “Madeleine,” “Inspector Gadget”…and the list goes on.

At age 25 and significantly impacted by autism, Matt still delights in these childhood favorites—and so do I! The difference is that he thinks about them over and over again and struggles to be present and focused when he’s not involved with structured activities.

Through the First Place Transition Academy, I’ve met adult students, some of whom will be future First Place Apartment residents, who also love Disney and other childhood favorites. How nice to have friends who share your interests, engage you in new ones and find joy in the things you can think.

More than 20 years ago, mothers were gathering at a local coffee shop here in Phoenix, thinking about what each of us could do to get through the day, night or school year. That’s when we began dreaming about what we could do next—together!

Once again, pioneers across the country are charting new paths. Through the First Place National Leadership Institute, we aim to support those efforts and explore more opportunities for collaboration as we recognize strength in numbers, the value of lessons learned and greater resilience—by working together.

Fast forward to 2017, when the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) is celebrating its 20th year anniversary. Its sister nonprofit, First Place AZ, is celebrating #5.

Today, we are not only able to think about the futures we want for our children, we’re able to experience them through greater awareness, supportive communities, employment opportunities and new residential options.

We’re seeing more innovation, more community inclusion and more options than ever before. In many ways, we are today with housing for special populations where we were 50 years ago with senior housing—and 20 years ago with early intervention.

Once again, pioneers across the country are charting new paths. Through the First Place National Leadership Institute, we aim to support those efforts and explore more opportunities for collaboration as we recognize strength in numbers, the value of lessons learned and greater resilience—by working together. As an example, First Place–Phoenix is “looking up,” thanks to 90 local and national collaborators. Check out this brief film:

Next month, from April 26 to 28, the First Place Leadership Institute’s Center for Real Estate and Community Development is hosting a symposium enabling participants to experience our supportive community and new developments underway. Space is limited, so please register soon.

Here’s the link to a detailed itinerary, featuring events and contact information for the places you’ll go, the people you’ll meet and the things you can think: First Place AZ 2017 Symposium.

Just imagine the really big things we can think and do when we dream and work together! Please join us in April.

Author Image
Denise is the founder and president of the marketing and communications firm, DRA Strategic Communications. She also serves as a member of the Arizona Community Foundation Board of Directors and member of the Arizona Advisory Board of BBVA Compass.

The mother of a 24-year-old son with autism, Denise is the founder, president and board chair of First Place AZ (www.firstplaceaz.org), a nonprofit dedicated to developing new, innovative housing options for adults with autism and other ‘special abilities,’ and the co-founder and board member emeritus of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC, www.autismcenter.org), an internationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to autism research, education and community outreach and the support of individuals with autism and their families throughout their lifetimes.

Other nonprofit leadership includes serving as a member of the Autism Speaks Housing Committee, Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism (AFAA) Leadership Council, National Association of Residential Providers for Adults with Autism (NARPAA) and the National Autism Transition Research Network Advisory Panel. Denise also served as a federally appointed member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) of the National Institutes of Health.

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