As children with autism grow into young adults, many of their parents encounter increasing difficulty in finding adequate services for that age group. The Growing Solutions Farm on the city's Near West Side is a vocational farm where those young adults living with autism can earn not just vocational, gardening skills, but also basic job readiness and communication skills. Now the National Garden Bureau is digging in to help the garden grow, by pledging funds and donations to expand the plants and crops at the garden, as well as serve more young adults with autism.
On a summer day at Growing Solutions Farm, you may come across a group of people with autism. Throughout the garden you will see them with smiles on their faces working together with staff members. On the left, there are many vegetables growing, one farmer is picking the green beans off the stalk. Far on the right, near the flowerbeds, a staff member aids a farmer who is watering the plants. He shows her where to put the hose so it directly hits the plant.
Many of them have big plans for themselves like Daniel Raviv who wants to be an animator.
The daily assignments in the garden provide the young adults the skills needed to be a responsible adult, such as communication, social and problem solving skills. Some of their duties include planting, painting the shed, and guiding tours.
Raviv has been coming to Growing Solutions since May. He takes the train and bus to the garden by himself, and he also said he picks up a bite to eat on his way home.
He explains how the work in the garden and long commute is helping him, “to practice for getting a job, to help improve my work abilities, and to improve my work methods.”
The National Garden Bureau and the Julie + Michael Tracey Family Foundation have teamed up to expand this therapeutic garden.
However, there is a lot more ahead for this program. Once fully funded, the National Garden Bureau plans to invest in more therapeutic gardens across the country, which will not be limited to people with autism, but also could be for other special needs, like veterans' groups.
Currently, the garden is only using 25 percent of its space. Diane Blazek, executive director of the National Garden Bureau, hopes the money raised will help expand and create more therapy gardens nationwide. The goal for Growing Solutions Farm is to raise $50,000 in product and cash donations.
Julie Tracey, founder of the Julie + Michael Tracey Family Foundation, has a son with autism. She knows the importance of having services and programs for young adults with autism. Tracey has seen firsthand that there are not enough programs or services for these adults, which led her to create the foundation. With autism being the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S., she believes programs like these are important.
“Most of them are floundering during these years, and one of our goals is to eliminate the floundering period and provide a more secure passage into adulthood,” she said. “We feel if we can manage these years we will have much better outcomes, and we’ve already seen this to be true.”