July 3, 2019

Eden To Open New Day Center For Senior Citizens with Autism

By Anne Levin

Most people associate autism with children and young adults. But thanks to better health care and increased understanding of the disorder, people with autism and developmental disabilities are living longer.

According to the Association on Aging with Developmental Disabilities, the average life expectancy for people with a developmental disability was just 22 years in 1931. Today, the average life expectancy is 70. Yet only two percent of autism research is focused on seniors, which leaves families with an autistic relative uncertain about the future.

It is this kind of statistic that inspired Eden Autism, the 44-year-old support organization, to create the Schalks Crossing Day Center for Aging Adults. The new center is located in the Plainsboro Plaza on Schalks Crossing Road. The facility opens this month, with an official ribbon cutting scheduled for Thursday, August 15.

“There aren’t too many programs focused specifically on senior adults with autism,” said Michael Decker, Eden Autism president and CEO. “A great deal of the emphasis, nationally, has been on children. But that is changing.”

The center is designed to help participants transition to retirement, teaching skills to keep them engaged and fulfilled after they stop working. The location, with access to numerous shops and restaurants within walking distance, is key. “This is a great opportunity for the people we support to be active members of the community,” said Decker. “And that is a big focus of Eden in general.”

“People just didn’t really think about what happens to autistic individuals post-21,” said Rachel Tait, Eden’s chief program officer. “But there has been a shift in the last couple of years where they are starting to look at the transition to adulthood. It is slowly starting to catch up. People with disabilities grow up, and we have to prepare for the transition not only to adulthood, but to becoming senior citizens.”

Decker said many of the individuals Eden has been supporting as children are now reaching retirement age. “We remain committed to them and their families as they reach yet another milestone,” he said.

Schalks Crossing is opening with 28 participants, allowing for expansion to 40. This is Eden’s third day center and the first to open in Middlesex County. Eden also operates day centers in Hamilton and West Windsor. Its main location is at 2 Merwick Road in Forrestal Village.

While Eden’s other adult service programs are centered primarily on employment skills, the emphasis at Schalks Crossing will be on transitioning to retirement. Activities of daily living, recreation, leisure, and volunteerism will be the focus.

Eden officials are hoping the center will become an inspiration for similar programs. “We are one of the first organizations in the field to address what the need is for seniorhood,” said Tait. “We hope the model we develop will be used by other organizations to help all families feel more at ease as their loved one ages.”

The August 15 ribbon-cutting is at 10 a.m., at 10 Schalks Crossing Road, Suite 12. “We’re very excited about this opening,” said Decker. “It represents a great opportunity for the people we serve.”