Morgan sits on one end of a couch, then the other, before settling
in the middle.
The 48-year-old enters most
buildings through the back entrance. When he leaves, he walks up and
down a driveway twice before continuing on to his next destination.
Mr. Morgan is one of more than a
million people nationwide with autism, and routines like those
govern his life.
"It's the structure he imposes on
his life to give himself order," explains Chuck Saunders, outreach
director at Bittersweet Farms, an 80-acre working farm in Whitehouse
that provides professional and support services to autistic adults.
Resistance to change is one of the
staple characteristics of autism, Mr. Saunders said, which explains
why those with the disorder rely so heavily on rituals.
"If certain parts of his [Mr.
Morgan] world aren't the way they're supposed to be, he gets upset,"
Autism is a neurological disorder that
primarily affects a person's ability to communicate and interact
socially, and often appears during the first three years of life. It
is the fastest growing disability in the United States, and is
increasing at a startling rate of 10 to 17 percent each year,
according to the Autism Society of America.
Jeff Wilson, who is autistic, interacts here with Allen
Rawlins at Bittersweet Farms. Autism is the fastest growing
disability in the nation.
Because many conferences held on
autism focus on children with the disorder, the University of
Toledo's University Medical Center and Bittersweet Farms are
sponsoring northwest Ohio's first conference addressing some of the
issues relating to adults with autism.
The conference, scheduled for Thursday
and Friday, will focus on some of the long-term care needs required
for adults with autism and will also highlight programs that are
beneficial for autistic individuals as they get older.
David Holmes, the founder of the
Eden Institute in Princeton, N.J. - a nonprofit organization
designed to provide autistic adults with the skills needed to live
independently - is one of the scheduled feature speakers at the
conference. Another is Max Wiznitzer, director of Rainbow Babies and
Children's Hospital Autism Center in Cleveland.
Many people with autism require
lifelong support, which can emotionally and financially drain the
families of those with the disorder.
Treatment, diagnoses, and
intervention of autism costs an estimated $90 billion each year, and
90 percent of that is spent on adult services, autism experts say.
Families often bear the brunt of those
costs because many Ohio insurance providers don't offer coverage for
treatment and intervention services, says Barb Yavorcik, president
of the Autism Society of Ohio.
"Some people mortgage their homes
to be able to afford therapy for their kids," she says.
Ohio and Michigan do not keep
statistical information on the number of people with autism. Based
on the prevalence of the disorder and the state's 2005 population,
Ms. Yavorcik estimates that more than 50,000 Ohio children and
adults have autism.
The Michigan Department of
Education reports that more than 10,000 children in Michigan schools
Parents of autistic children can be
faced with the challenge of deciding where their child will live as
they enter adulthood. Some live at facilities like Bittersweet Farms
that provide around-the-clock support, while others move to
supported living communities.
Families who can't afford to send
their children to these types of facilities usually continue to care
for them at home. Ms. Yavorcik says this sometimes creates added
concerns for parents such as, "Who's going to watch out for them
when we die?"
Although it is possible for an
autistic individual to live on his own, not many do because they are
so vulnerable, Ms. Yavorcik says. "They would be more likely to be
conned or scanned because of the inability to pick up on social cues
and facial expressions," she says.
People with autism also have
difficulty understanding social behaviors such as how to introduce
themselves, where it is appropriate to stand when speaking with
someone, or how loud to talk - and that makes getting and keeping a
"We may have some individuals who are
extraordinarily capable, but can't get past the interview because
they have difficulty with social response," says Jan Cline, clinical
services director at Bittersweet. "They may get a job and have
difficulty maintaining it because of some of the social deficits."
Those with autism are often
classified as "low-functioning" or "high-functioning" based on their
abilities and the level of support they need, experts say.
As he does many days, Mr. Morgan - who
is considered low-functioning - walks up and down the driveway
twice, enters the kitchen through the back door, and then picks up a
broom to begin sweeping.
A tall, thin man with a face devoid
of much emotion, Mr. Morgan stands in one spot for several minutes
brushing dirt into a pile, Mr. Saunders prompts: "What's the next
thing you need to do?"
Almost immediately, Mr. Morgan pushes
the dirt into a dust pan, and starts sweeping a new section of the
Bittersweet Farms, other community
and supported-living facilities, and the families of people with
autism serve an important role, Mr. Saunders said.
"Just like a person without a leg
needs a prosthetic leg, or just like somebody who has poor vision
needs eyeglasses - we are the prosthetic for people with autism," he