Alex, my neighbor, is on the cusp of manhood. Ample facial hair, marked weight gain and height, and a pronounced husky voice confirm this milestone. I recall many years witnessing Alex’s growth – and his delays. I now find myself wondering about his future as an autistic young adult, and how his social and educational needs will be met once he ages out of children’s services.
Oasis tlc (Therapeutic Life Centers) is as an offshoot of an organization dedicated to pursuing “appropriate” and “progressive” autism education within the public schools. Realizing the maturing autistic population would not be served after the federally funded age of 21, founding members of Oasis began an initiative geared towards transitioning young autistic persons into adulthood, using a sustainable farming community as a model.
Nestled within scenic Monmouth County, N.J., Oasis offers numerous opportunities rooted in nature and conservation. Residents are provided housing and education along with instruction in sustainable farming practices. Symbiotic relationships are forged as neighboring communities are supplied with fresh, healthy fare. The residents’ burgeoning independence is made possible by the presence of immediate family residing nearby. Parents and teachers assist by providing ongoing support, sometimes decoding language often misunderstood or possibly unrecognizable to the general populace.
Autonomy is further explored through mind-body activities, including yoga, weight-training, massage and the like. “Social focus” is highlighted through off-site recreational activities, such as bowling trips and visits to the nearby “Soul Kitchen,” a charitable eatery run by musician Jon Bon Jovi, with pay-as-you-wish donations. In turn, residents revisit the restaurant the next day to volunteer dining services. Such interaction among non-autistic persons is intended to reinforce and celebrate core human values and personal potential.
A supportive, nurturing environment, rife with opportunities to discover one’s self-worth while developing the ability to provide service to others, would be my solemn wish for my neighbor, Alex. Perhaps, one day he will discover an Oasis of his own and may echo one resident’s sentiments, “This is my home.”
Cindy Weinstein currently holds a bachelor’s degree in special education and has worked primarily with the deaf preschool and elementary population. She feels grateful for having witnessed, on numerous occasions, the unique gifts and talents offered by the students in her care. Cindy is our ground reporter for Medford, N.J. Editor’s Note: All words above in quotes are taken from Weinstein’s interview with Oasis tlc Vice-President Liz Smith. For more information about Oasis tlc including donations and volunteer opportunities, please visit oasistlc.org.