Do you have a child with profound autism? Have you thought in a panic, who is going to take care of my child after I’m gone? My answer to both questions is: Yes! I am a mother of a 22-year-old son with profound autism. He is mostly non-verbal and has epilepsy. He was diagnosed at age two and has been in the special needs system since he was two and a half years old.
When my son was twenty years old, I had my panic moment about his long-term care and housing. I knew about group homes, but some close friends had placed their teenage children in these homes—with poor outcomes. I knew their children and the heart-breaking details of their stories, which made me determined to find another long-term housing option if I could. In 2019, while lamenting the dilemma of scarce housing options for the disabled to a good friend, several introductions were made which eventually led me to Living Unlimited and its co-founder Susan Riggle. Susan’s panic moment of housing her own profoundly autistic son occurred in 2012, when he was eleven years old. Through her own search for housing solutions, and not really finding any, she ended up co-founding Living Unlimited with Alex Krem in 2015.
Living Unlimited’s first residential community is called Clearwater Ranch in Cloverdale. Our initial request to be considered for this community did not pan out, which led us to thinking about starting our own residential community. By happenstance, this was about the same time Susan had found a property in Petaluma that had the potential to be a second Living Unlimited community. I immediately fell in love with this five-and-a-half-acre property that is right on the edge of the City of Petaluma. We jumped on the opportunity and by December 2019, Mustang Court Commons was formed, and it became the start of a new community. One that is created on the concept of a cluster of homes surrounding an anchor property.
As an occupational therapist, I am always thinking about how occupations and roles that we have throughout our life span provide the reason we get up every day and meaning to our lives. I thought about how farm work could provide daily chores and routines that followed the seasons, and how the manual labor needed provides the heavy work and sensory input that individuals like my son enjoy. Thus was born Mustang Acres Farm (MAF), a social agricultural project right at the doorstep of Mustang Court Commons and just a few feet away from neighboring tract homes so the community can grow. The farm is under development. What we do have currently is a large expense of grass, nine sheep and one llama. Eventually a vocational program will be developed, produce will be planted, a barn will be raised, and the residents will have hands on experience while learning about permaculture and being good stewards of the land. The dream is to collaborate with the local schools as well as schools in urban areas, where our special needs individuals will be integrated with others in the community through the farm. To find out more about Mustang Court Commons, please visit mustangcourtcommons.com. Follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/mustangacresfarm or Instagram @mustangacresfarm for the latest on what’s happening on the farm.
– By Fiona Wong
This is the first post in our new series: Spotlight on Bay Area Autism Families!
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