Children on the autism spectrum now have more resources than ever before, but what happens when they age out of the school system? Seattle Children's is now helping fill that need with a new program that started with one family's dream. Jean Enersen repor KING
In a split second photographer Charlie Cutugno captures a rare moment with 22-year-old Alyssa Burnett's eye seem to express hopes and dreams, just like any woman her age.
"She's speaking to you with her eyes, which is what she does, it's definitely the eyes," said Barbara Burnett, Alyssa's mom.
The photographs hang in the hall of Barbara and Charlie Burnett's home and showcase their daughter as the beautiful young adult she is.
However, autism prevents Alyssa from taking care of herself.
Children on the autism spectrum and their families have more resources than ever before, but a gap existed when they aged out of the school system.
Now, Seattle Children's Hospital is helping fill that need with a program that started with this family's dream.
"You know, we spend our lives in the first 21 years of their lives getting our children ready to go out in the community," said Barbara. "The reailty is right now our community is not ready for children like Alyssa."
Their deep love for Alyssa prompted the Burnetts to create the non-profit organization called "Tessera."
First they set up a group home.
Eventually they hope to create a community center where adults like Alyssa can experience enriching lives.
A place for them to go, a chance for life-long learning.
Now that place exists: The Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center in Bothell.
Program manager Tammy Mitchel said the approach is loosely based on the parks and recreation model. Goals are modest but also monumental.
The focus is on learning but also on fun.
Dr. Gary Stobbe said the need for social connections increased in the 20s.
"They're still not that good at it and they need places to practice. And what better place than this safe environment to potentionally meet others that have similar interests, and to continue to grow socially," Stobbe said.
Word has gotten out about the community center. Seattle Children's has received calls from Alaska, Colorado, California, Idaho and Montana asking about these services. That's how great the need is.
More information on the Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center.