Everything Autism is about enjoying life with an autistic child—and the rest of your family, too. Certainly, everyone with special needs needs to feel special, but so do your other family members. “Because everyone needs to feel special,” our focus is on fun for the whole family, along with autism-specific resources and events for those living in the Bay Area of Houston.
At Everything Autism.org, you can expect to find everything from the best area parks, day trips, low-cost vacation spots and entertainment for the whole family, from small up-close rodeos, horseback riding, and autism-friendly cruises, inclusive camps and child cares, and pediatric dentists and pediatricians good with special needs kids.
Also information on local schools, alternative schools, homeschooling, and special programs and funding for college; and most importantly: information for parents to figure out where and how their special child might live when he/she grows up. It’s basically the resource I wished I had five years ago, when I was moving into the area, and hope others will help me to create.
ABOUT OUR MISSION.
- to provide information to families affected by autism and other developmental disabilities living in the Bay Area of Houston, and
- to partner with other organizations to increase the number and quality of educational, recreational and vocational opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities living in the Clear Lake area.
ABOUT OUR WEBSITE.
Everything Autism.org is a parent-driven website which provides information about resources, events, recreation and childcare opportunities in the Bay Area of Houston. It will also sponsor surveys and conduct original research, using the website as a platform to publish findings. It will serve as the local resource and community guide for everything autism-related in the Bay Area of Houston.
It is a community resource and resource community in one. Everyone is welcome to submit a resource and/or a Yelp-style review, an event, a forum topic, or any other type of content–the more community participation, the richer the guide. It does not charge fees for listings or accept advertising.
Everything Autism is a Registered Nonprofit corporation by the State of Texas.
Everything Autism.org features:
- A searchable database/resource guide of area resources, including special needs child cares and after school programs.
- A way for users to easily submit content, resources, events and reviews of providers, including HCS (Home and Community-based Service) providers.
- A child care co-op to increase access to affordable child care opportunities for special needs kids in Clear Lake.
- A forum and events calendar to increase opportunities for socialization, recreation, and leisure activities in Clear Lake.
- A way for autistic people to make friends who live in the area.
Coming in 2017:
- A school district survey that will enable parents to more easily compare special needs services offered through various schools and school districts.
- A virtual giving/Christmas tree to provide a gift at Christmas for an autistic adult who lacks family support and supplemental income.
- An online art gallery featuring art for sale by autistic artists — our 10,000 Village approach.
ABOUT OUR SERVICE AREA.
Everything Autism serves the Bay Area of Houston, sometimes referred to as “the Clear Lake area,” though the two are not synonymous. Bay Area Houston (much of which is not Houston or Harris County even) roughly corresponds to the purple shaded area outside of Beltway 8 on the map below.
Bay Area Houston, according to the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership (BAHEP), is a composite of several municipalities which fall partly or wholly within five area school districts: Clear Creek, La Porte, Dickinson, Friendswood and Pasadena ISDs:
While the Everything Autism Resource Guide, Event Calendar, Child Care Exchange and other online tools will serve as an information source for the whole Bay Area of Houston, its programming (activities and events involving people) is going to be concentrated in the Clear Lake (CCISD) area, which is accessible to families living throughout the Bay Area of Houston.
CCISD crosses two counties (Harris and Galveston) and spans 13 municipalities, including large portions annexed by the cities of Houston and Pasadena, along with the cities of Kemah, Seabrook, League City, Webster, Taylor Lake Village, El Lago, Clear Lake Shores, Nassau Bay, parts of Bacliff, parts of Pearland and parts of Friendswood.
CCISD is geographically the largest school district in the Bay Area, and among the largest in the State, though Pasadena exceeds Clear Creek in total enrollment. According to the latest Department of Education statistics, 3,681 students in CCISD have an IEP (i.e., a learning disability requiring special education services through an Individualized Education Plan), out of 39,209 enrolled.
Clear Lake is home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the University of Houston Clear Lake, the Kemah Boardwalk and other entertainment venues around and Galveston Bay; a top-rated school district; the Baybrook Mall, the third largest in the Houston area. It offers water recreation and a few marinas, golf courses, and many engineering and aerospace companies (Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Jacobs, Space X), and many families with children.
Major area employers of Clear Lake are:
|United Space Alliance||3,565|
|Clear Creek Independent School District||3,200|
|NASA/Johnson Space Center||3,125|
|The Boeing Company||1,500|
|Columbia/Clear Lake Regional Medical Center||1,300|
|Memorial Hospital Southeast||830|
|University of Houston-Clear Lake||793|
|Celanese Chemical Company||743|
|St. John Hospital||650|
|SPACEHAB (including Johnson Engineering)||575|
|Friendswood Independent School District||560|
|Brown & Root Pioneer Services||420|
|Hernandez Engineering Inc.||(e) 405|
|Union Carbide Information Technology Services||400|
|City of League City||314|
|Texas Air National Guard||(e) 310|
|Equistar Petrochemicals Company||235|
|Oceaneering Space Systems||225|
Many children diagnosed with autism are the children of engineers who live and work in the area.
Clear Lake is named after Clear Lake, the mouth of Clear Creek, a river which separates Harris and Galveston counties. Because of Clear Creek, other bodies of water in the area, and proximity to the Galveston Bay, Clear Lake is home to an abundance of wildlife, including seagulls, deer, egrets and brown pelicans.
Clear Lake is approximately 20 miles from downtown Houston. It is located midway between downtown Houston and Galveston, with Clear Creek serving as the boundary line.
UNIQUE CHALLENGES FOR DISABILITY PROGRAMS & SERVICES IN THE CLEAR LAKE AREA
The composite nature of the Clear Lake area, the fact that it includes a large section that is Houston, a small section that is Pasadena, a small section that is Pearland, and lots of other small municipalities put together, creates unique challenges for the delivery and funding of public programs and services for people with intellectual disabilities. Clear Lake is on the very edges of two counties. City and county disability services and established nonprofit organizations which typically serve people with disabilities do not extend to Clear Lake.
Because Clear Lake is not a city, it has no municipal community center or authority through which to offer adapted recreation public programs for the whole area. It has no community college campus though which to offer vocational and life skills courses for people with disabilities. Harris County also offers little in the way of disability services in the area. When my child’s name came up on the interest list for ABA services through Harris county MHMRA, for example, I was expected to drive 30 miles each way to 610 and 290 for each half-day session, held in the middle of a work day. The only entities which serve the Clear Lake area as such are CCISD and the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce.
Although it has a large population (200,000+ according to our local Chamber), it doesn’t have the infrastructure most communities of its size have, and through which services and programs for disabled persons can be established as an add-on to existing programs and services (There are few public and community programs to begin with, let alone for those for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities). Yet, Clear Lake is where many families are concentrated because of affordable homes, the number of employers in the area, and outstanding school district.
Since a contested annexation of Clear Lake City by the City of Houston in 1977, the majority of Clear Lake residents live within the Houston city limits. But it’s like being on an island, with the city of Pasadena separating Clear Lake from the mainland.
Even today, after many years of population growth, the City of Houston provides only limited services to the area:
- The City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department provides no recreational opportunities for disabled people or children living in the area, concentrating its disability programs at one central location that is 23 miles (Houston traffic, 90 minutes) from Clear Lake. The City of Houston offers adaptive recreational programs only at its Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Grey.
- Houston Community College isn’t in Clear Lake; there is no Clear Lake campus. Community colleges are the mechanism through which intellectually disabled people are prepared and made able to transition into some kind of workforce program. Clear Lake residents with Houston zip codes are not considered in district for Houston Community College, and the closest HCC campus (east side) is still, well, quite far away.
Vocational training certificate programs for persons with intellectual disabilities are offered through HCC’s VAST Academy at campuses which are located centrally, northwest and far west, over 25 miles (90 minute commute) from the Clear Lake area.
No comparable services or programs for intellectually disabled persons exist at San Jacinto College, which is also out of district for Clear Lake, but a lot closer.
- Despite road congestion, the explosion of homes and multifamily dwellings, and the third largest mall in the Houston area (and soon to double in size), Clear Lake lacks local bus service, which can make it difficult and inconvenient for people with disabilities to get around and function independently.
- Clear Lake is too far from the center of Houston or Harris County to benefit from existing disabilities programs provided through the City of Houston, Harris County and Houston-based service organizations, which are concentrated inside Loop 610 and on the west side of the city.
- Clear Lake crosses into two counties (which poses unique funding challenges), and outside of the area claimed by Houston, is comprised of many smaller municipalities and jurisdictions, like Webster and Seabrook, each of which is not on their own large enough to provide public programs for people with developmental disabilities.
- Clear Creek ISD offers no after school or extended year programming for people with developmental disabilities, as many other ISDs do. (For example, Pasadena ISD uses a municipal recreation center to provide after school programming and care to disabled kids.)
- Due in part to its Houston-not Houston-status, Clear Lake is not actively served by organizations that serve people with developmental and intellectual disabilities or their families.
Easter Seals, Arc of Greater Houston, Kidventure Voyager Camps (and other camps) for special needs kids, for example, have no presence in the Clear Lake area. The Arc of Greater Houston serves the north and west sides of Houston, according to their Executive Director. The Arc of the Gulf Coast, headquartered in Alvin (18 miles from Clear Lake) and commissioned to serve Galveston and Brazoria Counties, does not actively serve Clear Lake.
- Other area contiguous municipalities, like Webster, Seabrook, Nassau Bay and League City, are too small to offer disability programs.
Given the high concentration of families with children that live in Clear Lake, many drawn to the area for the top-rated Clear Creek ISD school district, the area is remarkably overlooked and under-served by organizations which traditionally serve people with autism and other intellectual disabilities.
EVERYTHING AUTISM’S GOALS.
The population of Clear Lake is exploding. Due to the outstanding school districts, low crime, a strong economy, access to shopping and entertainment, proximity to downtown Houston and Galveston, Clear Lake continues to be one of the most desirable places to raise a family in the Greater Houston area. Clear Creek ISD is the 29th largest school district in Texas, out of 1,031 districts. It is estimated that in the Clear Lake area alone there are 600 children with autism and 2,900 adults.
1. Like other children, autistic kids need opportunities to socialize and make friends.
- Many children with intellectual disabilities have no friends, and are socially isolated. Compared to their peers, autistic kids have limited opportunity to meet others and make friends. On top of profound communication deficits which come with being born autistic, they are segregated in small classes with other children who have a wide range of disabilities (they are not placed into autism-only classrooms) and cognitive impairments. Autistic kids desperately need extracurricular programs to form friendships with others who can accept them for who they are.
- Without opportunities for socialization in a supportive environment, most kids with autism give up trying to make friends by the time they leave elementary school.
- For their own self esteem, autistic kids need to be able to meet others who have similar sensory issues to realize that they are not alone.
- Children and teens who have no friends are at higher risk of depression and behavioral problems.
EA will try to expand opportunities for autistic children, teens and their families to socialize with each other to build a resource community.
2. Programs are needed teach autistic children and teens and real world skills to help them reach their potential.
- Learning how to ask questions in order to complete a task, for example, or how to work with others to complete a larger project, are important prerequisites for being able to hold and keep a job.
- Also key to future success is learning how to react when things do not turn out “right,” or as expected; many autistic people having difficulties dealing with the types of changes one might expect to experience in a regular workplace.
EA will seek to partner with other organizations and local employers to increase opportunities for recreation and socialization in the Clear Lake area.
3. Families of special needs kids need access to information to be able to make good decisions about things that which will impact their family and their child’s future. Parents of special needs kids may want to know:
- What resources for ECI (early childhood intervention) or ABA are in the area, and of these, which are available to working parents (after hours and on weekends)? Which ones take insurance?
- Does the school district offer language intensive, “autism-only” classrooms? If so at which campus is this offered? Does the district offer extended day or extended year programs for developmentally disabled students? Are there any safeguards against a special ed child having the same teacher for several consecutive years? What transition services are provided?
- In the Clear Lake area, is a family with an intellectually disabled child better off buying a home on the Harris County (Harris County MHMRA) or Galveston County (Gulf Coast MHMR) side? What are the pro’s and con’s of each, in terms of the delivery of services?
- What opportunities exist for leisure or recreation by special needs kids?
- What parent support groups are in the area?
- What public transportation options are available for disabled teens and adults who cannot drive?
- What services is my child going to receive once his name comes up on the the various State interest lists (what providers are in the area and of these, which ones are good)?
- What residential communities exist in the area, and what is their quality and cost?
- Are there any employers in the area who hire people with intellectual disabilities?
EA provides information and resources at a granular level so parents will be able to have a complete understanding of the resources that are available in a neighborhood, school district or zip code.
4. Families of Special Needs kids need access to affordable, reliable and appropriate child care and information about alternatives to group child cares:
- Despite the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many area child care centers in the Clear Lake area still refuse to accept children with disabilities, saying that they do not have the staff to accommodate a child who is not toilet trained by the age of 4 (most autistic children are not toileted until 8) or who needs one-on-one supervision to participate in group activities.
- “Kiddie academies” use admissions testing to weed out special needs kids.
- Church child cares are exempt from ADA compliance.
- No matter what ADA says, no parent wants to “force” a child care to accept a child if he/she is not welcome there.
- Parents of special needs kids often need to identify group child care centers which can provide accommodation for their child’s disability before moving into an area if they have no family resources on which to rely for care.
EA hopes to expand child care opportunities by creating a child care exchange or coop, so that stay at home moms, teachers who are off for the summer, or others with experience caring for special needs kids, can have a place to post advertisements where it will be seen by others in the autism community.
It will also try to facilitate “nanny-pooling,” hiring a staff person to care for more than one child at a group daycare or home.
5. Families need information about the quality of the special ed program in their communities and attendance zones to be able to objectively compare special needs services offered at the school and district levels.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA), which publishes accountability ratings for public schools, does not provide any objective criteria or rating system to ensure accountability to the public when it comes to special education. They do not indicate which schools have language intensive classes or extended day programs, for example. They do not evaluate which school districts are more successful at transitioning kids into some kind of work or vocational program.
EA will sponsor a school district survey to make it easier for families to compare school and school districts based on parent satisfaction and the services provided.
6. Families need information about the number and quality of HCS and other service providers in the area BEFORE their child’s name comes up on county interest lists.
Many parents with a child on the spectrum are placed in a peculiar dilemma. From the time their child is diagnosed, they are told they need to start planning for his future because you won’t be around forever and the child will need a lifetime of care. You put your child’s name on the various “interest lists” (waiting lists) for Medicaid-based services, which in Texas are at least 11 years long, and continuously worry about some error or accidental deletion or letter being lost in the mail which will result in removal from the list (You know, the one that asks if you are still interested in remaining on the list, and if there is no response your child’s name will be removed).
When you start wondering “Where might my child live after I’m gone? Are there good homes in the area? Do I need to move to another state to secure a good future for my child?” you are told by the county and other agencies, “It is too early to plan for the future. We don’t even know what the funding will be when your child’s name comes up on the list. We don’t know who the providers will be, because they come and go.” Are providers coming and going because the State pays so little that they move on to something more lucrative? Are expensive private for profit providers the only option?
Parents need information long in advance so they can better plan their child’s future and make good decisions selecting providers whom they can trust with the present and future care of their adult children. We must begin with a thorough understanding of what services and resources are available in our communities now:
- There is no online tool which permits public or parents to review of Home and Community-based Service (HCS) providers or residential facilities in the Houston-Harris County or Galveston County service areas.
- This is important, as employees of the local MR authorities responsible for coordinating services for persons with IDDs are not allowed to say anything negative about their licensed providers.
Families need information about residential homes in their communities so they can better plan for their child’s future. EA will try to provide information far in advance so parents will have an idea of what services to expect and where their child might live as an adult.
Because Everyone Needs to Feel Special:
HELPING ADULTS WITH AUTISM IN THE COMMUNITY.
The population of the Clear Lake area is over 200,000. Current estimates of autism rates, which does not include other causes for intellectual disability is 1: 68. Therefore, it is estimated that in Clear Lake alone there are at least 2,900 adults with autism. This number increases dramatically when taking into account other forms of intellectual disability.
Many of these adults are in group home settings and have outlived their parents or caring family members. While Medicaid pays for room and board, they may have no supplemental income source.
The initial impulse behind Everything Autism was to use the web to create a virtual giving tree for people in group homes. I imagined a Christmas tree with a ribbon garland across the top saying: “Because Everyone Needs to Feel Special.” (initially “Because Everyone with Special Needs Needs to Feel Special” but that sounded too much like an anagram.)
Everything Autism will attempt to harness social media to create ways for an anonymous donors to sponsor or purchase a gift for an adult with a developmental disability living in a licensed group home in the Bay Area.
Virtual Christmas (Giving) Tree. This will be an online application that allows approved persons with intellectual disabilities who lack financial means and family support to request items which can be fulfilled through crowd-sourcing and anonymous (or not) donation. The item can be anything from clothes to art supplies–anything that can be purchased through Amazon. The donor(s) will receive notification that the item has shipped.
A second program to help adults with autism is an arts program, which I would like to establish in the next few years.
ARTISM: Online Art Gallery. Many people with autism have unusual artistic abilities. Often these abilities can be tapped to create fantastic works of art which can be sold or reproduced as posters and cards.
Models for autistic art cooperatives exist in the UK, New York, California and Florida, to name a few; these programs are expanding (the Santa Barbara based Art of Autism website is one example).
Through partnership with local agencies and arts organizations, and possibly the VSA (The State Organization on Arts and Disability), Everything Autism could facilitate the creation and sale of art online by disabled artists so they can develop a modest source of income and meaningful work in the Clear Lake area.
ABOUT OUR LOGO, THE BROWN PELICAN.
The brown pelican is indigenous to the Clear Lake area. Our pelican in the logo is resting next to piers which might look vaguely like an outline of the Houston skyline off in the distance.
I really like pelicans, first because they appear to be an awkward and clumsy bird on land, but in the air they surprise everyone how such a large and heavy creature can glide so effortlessly just a few feet off the ground or inches above the water. Likewise, people with autism often defy our expectations with their special gifts and creativity.
The brown pelican will spontaneously join with others to form single-file lines (sometimes straight lines, other times v shaped) to feed, each pelican in the line taking its turn diving into the water after fish with a very dramatic splash. Even in the surf, they will float in lines, bobbing in the waves single-file, then take off in a line once again. This love of structure is another reason why the pelican is a great symbol, because people with autism tend to like structure, order and geometry.
Plus, I love pelicans, which can now be seen all along Galveston Bay after coming back from near extinction. A great spot to see pelicans is at Pier 19 in Galveston.
My name is Emily Tuck, and I am the organizer and host of Everything Autism. I am a librarian and by day and mother of two boys, one of whom is autistic. There is never a dull moment at our house–but why would you want a dull moment?
Because EA is new, there is a lot of me and my family on this site—I had to get content from somewhere! Trust me, there is room for you and your family too! I’m sincerely hoping as Everything Autism grows, there will be more of your family and less of mine.
If you have any suggestions for the site, or would like to help me take EA to the next level–whatever that might be–please contact me at [email protected].