The next time you’re at the grocery store, spend a few extra minutes in the bread aisle and take note of the seemingly infinite selection. As kids some 50 years ago, our choices were pretty limited: white, cinnamon raisin, rye, and wheat. Each had its own special appeal. White smothered with peanut butter and jelly was particularly comforting. Cinnamon raisin toasted and buttered or transformed into French toast was perfect for weekends. There was rye with corned beef for my grandfather. Last but not least, we opted for wheat when we would try (or pretend to try) to eat healthy.
Today, there’s something for everyone—all of the above plus new, unique offerings from baguettes, bagels, and naan to flatbread, brioche, and breads with more than 24 grains. And for those with dietary concerns, don’t forget gluten-free, sugar-free, egg-free, nut-free, and nearly calorie-free.
People love choices. They demand them. And the marketplace gladly delivers.
What about choices for people with special needs? When we say autism, ASD, or Asperger’s, what do they mean in terms of addressing the needs, wants, desires, and demands of these special populations? How does the marketplace respond?
Today, we are dealing with a scarcity of resources on many fronts but none more prevalent than the lack of funding for housing for adults with autism and other special abilities. The shelves are barren of options.
Age has been one way to segment the market to identify and attract funding streams, resulting in more resources directed to children than to adults. Not only does this ignore the vast heterogeneity of people with autism and their families, but it also disregards the fact that more than 50,000 members of this population are transitioning to adulthood annually.
The Need for Options
Just as bread makers have done with consumers, we need to find better ways of segmenting the population of people living with autism so that educators, healthcare providers, funders, and builders can better understand the market they’re serving and how those individuals need and want to be served.
We need to stock those shelves with more options for the range of consumers with autism and other special abilities who are looking for different kinds of home and community options now and at the various times, seasons, and cycles of their lives.
We need to inform the marketplace with a universal language—complete with definitions and nomenclature—that identifies and communicates who we are and is recognized by the public, private, philanthropic, and nonprofit sectors. It must be respectful and empower individuals to live healthier and more joyful lives, integrated into communities of their choosing.
We are today where senior housing was 50 years ago—and look at the plethora of choices the marketplace has developed for that group of people. We have a burgeoning special population in need of homes and services that must transcend outdated and limited models. We need new models that match the interests and needs of individuals with the right property location, design, and amenities rooted in communities everywhere. A new generation of dynamic housing models is only possible by collectively tapping private, public, philanthropic, and nonprofit interests.
We have an unprecedented opportunity to pioneer innovative housing and community development across North America. Together, we can build a new market that ensures housing options for people with autism and other neuro-diversities are as bountiful as they are for everyone else.
In that vein, First Place AZ will host a Global Leadership Institute Symposium October 24-26 in Phoenix and a kick-off meeting for a market segmentation study, being produced in collaboration with the Autism Housing Network, the Urban Land Institute, and thought leaders from across North America. The report is being designed to serve as a sister study to Opening Doors: A Discussion of Residential Options for Adults Living with Autism and Related Disorders (published in 2009). If you would like more information on the symposium or this groundbreaking study, please send an email to and include information about yourself, your organization, and area(s) of interest.
Much depends on us and how we choose to slice it. We need to do much better. And we can!
An international leader in the field of autism, Denise D. Resnik is the founder and president/CEO of First Place® AZ, established in 2012; co-founder of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), established in 1997; and founder and CEO of DRA Collective, a marketing/communications firm, established in 1986, that serves clients in various areas, including real estate, economic development, health care, education, and hospitality.