April marks the 1-year anniversary of the grand opening of Seattle Children’s Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center. The Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center hosts year-round classes for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental disabilities. And though it’s only been a year, the Alyssa Burnett Center has already seen great success. Tammy Mitchel, program manager, recounts below her hopes and fears from day one and shares some of her favorite milestones from the past year.
Nearly one year ago, as I was driving to the grand opening of the Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center, my head swirled with thoughts, hopes, dreams and – admittedly – fears for this journey to open a center for adults with autism. Would it be possible to thoughtfully offer classes to adults with autism and serve a wide spectrum of ability levels? Could we teach adults who had never been in a kitchen how to cook for themselves? Would we be equipped to handle even the most challenging behaviors? And most importantly, could we create a community where all of this could happen under one roof?
I’m so happy to say one year later that yes, we could. And we did.
Seattle Children’s Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center meets the important needs of adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental disabilities as they age out of the education system. The center hosts year-round classes for adults age 18 or older and offers classes to promote lifelong learning, enhance quality of life of individuals, and provide meaningful ways to take part in the community.
Facing vulnerability head on
My journey with autism in young adults began with my little brother, Mikey. I escorted him on stage at his high school graduation. He grabbed my arm, beaming and proud, his tassel flopping as he excitedly introduced me to his friends- both in his Special Education classes and his typical ‘Peer Buddies’. We walked on stage, and while I was anticipating him grabbing the microphone and doing something very much in Mikey-form, I was also somewhat paralyzed thinking, ‘He’s grown up. The safety net that my parents had worked so hard to create will soon be gone and then what?’ I tried my hardest to just be present in that moment, but in the back of my mind I remember realizing this was the start of a new journey… one that we didn’t have a roadmap for.
Now, as Mikey’s 21st birthday nears, I realize how much trust families put into us at the Alyssa Burnett Center. They spend twenty plus years working tirelessly to create the best support network and path for their kids, and they place their full-grown baby over in your care, and trust that you will guide them with grace and intention. Families are once again in a vulnerable place- trusting a program to care for their kid, teach them new things, to push them to reach their potential.
My brother motivates me to think of how we measure the success of our program at the Alyssa Burnett Center. I often think, would this be good enough for my brother? Could we do more? Can it be better? Inherently, because of the dynamic and passionate team we have asked to turn our vision into reality, we have high standards, because we know the potential and see the opportunity to achieve greatness for these adults.
I told myself the night of our grand opening one year ago that we will push the limits, think outside the box, be advocates and friends, and most importantly—we will define what the adult autism and special needs climate can and will look like. Our model will be a yardstick to measure excellence… and that tenacious spirit in which the center was created will be the flame that constantly helps guides us.
Milestones in the first year
One year after opening, we have met and surpassed milestones. We have seen success with individuals who may not have had that chance before.
Take, for example, Tucker, who joined during our pilot and whose challenging behaviors prevented him from engaging in any activity- even as simple as making a peanut butter sandwich. Instead of letting Tucker live in his own world, our behavioral specialist, Manuel, tried different methods to engage him – new schedules, communication systems, positive reinforcements, break patterns.
We made progress. I’ll never forget the day a staff told me to come into the great room. And there was Tucker. Sitting, eating his sandwich he made, for the first time in a year, among his friends. Happy.
Then there’s Morgan, who takes life skills classes and is learning how to communicate with people around him. Morgan took cooking classes and later helped cater a dinner for 20 of our founders and leaders. And when he left a luncheon that he spoke at recently, he told his mom how empowered he felt, standing on stage speaking to a room full of supporters, how his communication had never been clearer, or his message better received.
It’s each of our 60 adults we work with each week, who are trying new things, with new friends, in a place where they can be celebrated for exactly who they are.
These adults, and their supporters, will forever be the catalyst for greater change.
We extend our heartfelt thanks to our amazing adults – who are our greatest inspiration to always strive for excellence – to Alyssa, her parents, and the entire community of donors, who brought this center to life with such beautiful energy and grace, to our staff, who work tirelessly to ensure such greatness continues to flourish, and to our instructors, volunteers and community friends who believe in and support us along the way.