Sarah Pope is well aware of the struggle.
As a mother of two sons with autism, she knows all too well about the uncertainty of her sons’ care after she is gone.
“It’s a tough spot to be in as a parent,” said Pope. “What happens when we’re not here anymore?”
As executive director for the local non-profit SOS Health Care, Pope helps to provide various services to those with autism – such as therapy, individualized life planning including money management and job searching. However, there are few options for long-term independent living for adults with intellectual disabilities.
That’s where Oak Tree Farm comes into play.
The new living community is in the works and will offer adults with autism the chance to move out of their parents’ or caregivers’ homes and into a “safe, stable, and affordable housing community,” according to the SOS Health Care website.
Pope said Oak Tree Farm will offer 28 single-family homes, with four-bedroom, four-bath and two-bedroom, two-bath options as well as life skills training, access to transportation, an amenities center, a playground, a swimming pool and more.
Recently, SOS Health Care came under contract to purchase 10.88 acres of land on Medlen Parkway, where the community will be built.
The site will act as one of a few options available for autistic adults to live independently, according to research compiled by SOS Health Care. A study by Coastal Carolina University health science professor Stephen Firsing shows that Horry County alone has 4,000 people with intellectual disabilities. Only 66 beds are offered as long-term living solutions by the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.
Through various services offered at SOS Health Care – such as therapy, individualized life planning including money management and job searching – Oak Tree Farm acts as the next step for those with autism to become independent.
“We’re taking them through these different stages of their lives and at the end of the day they’re still living at home with aging caregivers,” said Pope.
As for caregivers on site, SOS Health Care will provide minimal staff, mainly because those who will live in the community will need little help. Those who have their own caregivers are encouraged to bring them to the community.
“All of them are different,” Pope said, referring to each person’s individual needs.
When each resident comes to live in the community they will first live in a transitional home, which will not only help to ease the transition into independent living, but will also give SOS staff an opportunity to evaluate the specific needs of each resident.
“They don’t do things that other people do to be independent,” Pope said, stating that those with autism do not typically go through normal socialization. “It also gives the family a chance to get used to the idea as well.”
The transitional home will help the inhabitants learn the necessary skills they need in order to live on their own.
It’s a big step in the right direction, Pope says.
“There’s so many people with disabilities and knowing that there’s no plan in the nation, we as parents need to come up with that,” Pope said.
Research compiled by SOS Health Care states, “According to Autism Speaks, 81 percent of adults with autism live with aging caregivers. And according to The Arc, 4.8 million Americans with disabilities rely on SSI with incomes less than $8,700 per year. This leaves adults with autism and intellectual disabilities vulnerable to poor housing situations and even homelessness.”
“I’m glad that we’re able to come up with this solution,” Pope said.
While the building is still in the early stages of development, Pope is hopeful that crews will break ground by Christmas.
In the meantime, SOS Health Care is hosting fundraisers to help raise money to reach its $5 million goal over a period of 10 years, including the Buy a Brick fundraiser.
“It’s been something we wanted to do for a very long time,” Pope said.
While there are few opportunities for permanent living solutions for those with autism, there are many services across the Grand Strand that offer services to those with special needs including Horry County Disabilities & Special Needs and Grand Strand Miracle Leagues.