Raleigh non-profit aims to give adults on autism spectrum open spaces to live and work

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- April is Autism Acceptance Month and an organization in the Triangle has big plans of serving adults on the autism spectrum.

A 28-acre tract of land in south Raleigh is home to 3 Bluebirds Farm which already offers day camps, track-out camps and clubs for teens and young adults with autism.

It's a quiet, calm, peaceful space with a log cabin as its main building: garden boxes, a couple livestock guardian dogs and chickens.

"Parents that have kids with autism, they're always looking for a place for their kids to go to be safe," said Ben Spear whose 10-year-old son, Jacob has attended Camp Bluebird since he was four. "They want to be accepted. They want to be loved there. I think that's what drew us to here."

Spear said he has watched through the years as Jacob's vocabulary has blossomed along with his social skills.

"Jacob loves it out here too," Spear said. "He loves being with animals, he likes being outside, he likes doing the chores."

Erin O'Loughlin, founder and president of 3 Bluebirds Farm, was inspired to launch the non-profit following her own son's diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, with the goal of one day serving adults on the spectrum.

"We call it the cliff," she said. "They go off the cliff at age 22 and all those (state-) mandated services stop and they haven't stopped having autism."

While the farm already serves children and teens, O'Loughlin, through fundraising, is working toward offering a supportive residential program where adults can live and work on the farm, enjoying a life of independence.

"Individuals with autism tend to do best with structure," said O'Loughlin. "There's a calming effect of the farm and the animals that they surround themselves with."

Julian Meyer, who is 18, has attended the farm's social club throughout his teenaged years.

"I see it as an opportunity for me to make friends I never thought I'd have," Meyer said. "When I come here I get to meet lots of new people."

Meyer said he plans to continue returning to the farm and staying connected to this community where he feels accepted.

Spear said he hopes his son Jacob will do the same.

"It would be great if he could work out here one day, if he has that independence and he can be a contributor to the farm," he said.

For other parents who are still searching for a community of acceptance, Spear said they should simply reach out.

"Don't be afraid and don't try to go alone," Spear said.
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