A place for adults with autism
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A place for adults with autism

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI
9/15/2016


Long Island Autism Communities Inc., a nonprofit organization that hopes to establish supportive integrated communities for adults with autism spectrum disorders, is looking to place a housing project, its first, in Patchogue Village.

“We have a pending contract,” said the organization’s founder, Charles Massimo, chief executive officer of CJM Wealth Management in Deer Park. The hope is to have six adults over age 21 with autism live in a home with a staff of three, a community director and trained caregivers. If the deal goes through, it would be the first of its kind on Long Island.

“They’ll all be over 21; the goal is once they’re out of the school system, the next era of their lives starts and families ask, ‘what do we do now?’” Massimo pointed out.

He is the father of two boys with autism spectrum disorders and started the nonprofit last year. His 16-year-old sons, part of triplets that includes a daughter who does not have the disorder, attended elementary, middle and a year of high school in the Three Village School District. His sons were diagnosed at 18 months. 

“[Three Village] has a wonderful program, but the academic part dropped off and became more vocational and we wanted more for our sons,” he explained. They are now attending The Center for Discovery in Monticello, where they live in-house. 

Massimo lauded the Monticello center, which aids people with intellectual and physical challenges to find new models for living. “It’s a wonderful program, but I didn’t want them away from their family on Long Island for the rest of their lives, so I moved pretty quickly,” he said of forming the nonprofit’s concept with a board of eight. 

“There’s been talk for so many years, but nothing’s been done, ” he confirmed.

An autism housing project near a vibrant Main Street like Patchogue’s would offer accessibility to jobs, as well as volunteer, cultural and transportation opportunities. 

“I think it would create a lot of job opportunities,” he said. “We want to help them find work, maybe two days a week. Some can work full-time.”

Massimo said the initial cost for this unit would range from approximately $1.5 million to $2 million; it would be privately funded via personal donations, businesses and foundations. From there, “there will be a rental and HOA fee, a common charge for maintenance of the grounds,” he said of its residents’ costs. “That budget is still to be determined. And we won’t put together a development that will exclude people, so we’ll make it affordable for everyone.”

He hopes the initiative will extend to multiuse townhomes with the possibility of parents living nearby. “The larger projects would be $8 million to $10 million,” he said. According to the autismspeaks.org website, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. The disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. According to March 27, 2014 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children in a U.S. study were identified with having autism spectrum disorder. It is more prevalent in boys.”

“From the beginning, they got 40 hours a week of therapy and that helped them to develop,” Massimo said. “It’s constant supervision. For Steven, there’s nothing that peaks his interest for long periods of time; that’s been a constant challenge. Christopher enjoys computers and his favorite videos but finding that consistent thing that interests him has also been a challenge. But they went from not speaking at all to communicating their wants and needs.”

Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri said this is the first time the village has been approached for an autism center. “But we have three or four organizations like AHRC and Cerebral Palsy, a number of different-type homes,” he said, adding, “We’re very supportive of it.”

Massimo said he’s hopeful the project can be completed by spring 2017.