Ken Anderson is passionate about building better communities for adults with autism

Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-17 00:28:10-04

CINCINNATI -- Nearly every weekend, charitable organizations across the country host events to raise funds and awareness. But the Ken Anderson Foundation (KAF) is taking a step beyond raising awareness and is working to raise an actual community here in the Tri-State where developmentally disabled adults can live and thrive.

It continued with an event last weekend

The US Bank Stadium Strides presented by Kroger was held Sunday, Oct. 16, beginning on the field at Paul Brown Stadium and ending on the warning track at Great American Ball Park. The inaugural 1.5-mile walk included a block party at The Banks, featuring entertainment, food, and a showing of the Bengals vs. Patriots game on the videoboard.

All proceeds from the event go toward the development of Lighthouse Landing, a proposed community for adults with developmental disabilities that allows them to work, live and feel connected to others.

"We all get to make choices in life," said KAF Executive Director Cate Reinert. "We get to choose where we live, who our friends are, what recreational opportunities we have. But for this population, most of them don't have those choices, and that's the reality for them all the time."

Former Bengals and Pro-Bowl quarterback Anderson explained that he recognized the need for improved living situations when his nephew Drew aged out of a highly engaging group facility for autistic teens. Because of severe behavioral issues, Anderson said, his nephew requires ongoing professional care. At his nephew's current adult group home, he said, Drew's life consists primarily of going back and forth to work and sitting in his room.

"We remember the days when he would be out shooting baskets with some of the guys; they had walking trails that he liked and a community center where he could watch movies -- and we thought maybe we could do something with a community that just lets them live the highest quality of life that they can," Anderson said.

As the number of adults living with development disabilities increases exponentially, the nation needs to take a closer look at the quality of life for these individuals, Reinert said. A fair amount of services and support exist for children, she noted, but that all ceases when they turn 22 years of age.

Surprisingly few such communities exist in the U.S., Anderson said, so he hopes to create a prototype of sorts for others to follow. He said the foundation is scouting locations, as well as working with consultants on planning, and said Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber could also be instrumental in finding additional employment for developmentally disabled adults.

"As we go forward, there's going to be a tremendous housing need here, and our community (Lighthouse Landing) won't nearly help to solve it all," Anderson said, "but hopefully it will make a difference."

"We have an explosion happening with those with developmental disabilities," Reinert said. "With autism, we're talking one in 63 births at this point. There are services for the kids, but people often forget that autism isn't something that you outgrow. If you have autism, you're going to have it as an adult, too."

Reinert knows. Her son Zach recently turned 22 years old, essentially aging him out the system. She said she's fortunate, since he's highly functional and able to live at home. But for those with extreme behavioral issues, she said, parents and caregivers face few options, and there are long waiting lists for group homes. Currently in the U.S., she said, an estimated 850,000 people over the age of 60 have children with developmental disabilities still living with them.

"Unfortunately, parents die. That's just a fact of life," she said. "And for us to wish 'Please let me live a day longer than my child' is not something as a parent you ever want to do. You want to know what kind of support is going to be there for them."

By building the community, Reinert said, organizers hope to address the feelings of loneliness and isolation often experienced by autistic adults. She said their plan is to create an intentionally diverse population of those both with and without developmental disabilities, there to offer support to each other.

"All over the country you're seeing more and more family members and parents saying that we need to do something about living situations," she said. "We need to make sure that we feel comfortable that our adult child is in a place where they can have that quality of life."

To learn more about the proposed community and to offer support, Anderson encourages people to come out and participate in the family-friendly event.

"Children's Hospital is sponsoring a kids zone for us with a trampoline," he said. "We've got face painters, balloon animals, there's food trucks going to be there and you get to watch the Bengals take on New England. Plus you get to walk on the field at Paul Brown and Great American Ball Park. It's going to be a lot of fun."