A New Jersey-based nonprofit has its sights set on crafting an apartment complex in Monmouth County specifically for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

A first-of-its-kind study from Parents With A Plan, based in Morris County, found that 73% of "neuro-diverse" adults in New Jersey are currently living with aging family. Tens of thousands have caregivers over the age of 60, according to their survey that was conducted between March and August of this year.

"That's staggering when you think about, what happens after that?" said Karen Fluharty, founder of Parents With A Plan.

Fluharty's 20-year-old son Ryan is on the autism spectrum and is currently enrolled in a transition program in Arizona that teaches life skills and fosters independent living.

"I quickly realized that the offerings for our neuro-diverse population is really slim," Fluharty said. "How do we prevent them from graduating to the couch at 21?"

According to the group, more than 200,000 individuals in New Jersey have an intellectual/developmental disability. In the nonprofit's survey, about 75% of respondents said they fear loneliness and isolation in the future. The top concern among individuals seeking an independent living situation was finding assistance to connect with people and places.

"If we don't develop the skills for independent living now, these individuals are at risk for homelessness and at risk for just having an inability to connect with the existing services that can help them," Fluharty said.

Parents With A Plan owns land in Red Bank that it hopes to develop for a 32-unit supportive apartment building. The next step in the process is presenting the plan to borough officials for any potential zoning ordinances.

Proposed apartment complex in Red Bank (Parents With A Plan)
Proposed apartment complex in Red Bank (Parents With A Plan)

Both the "hardware and software" of the proposed building would cater to the neuro-diverse population, Fluharty said. The complex would serve as a stepping stone to independent living.

Apartments would be wired with low-voltage lighting, the bathrooms would be fitted with floor drains to prevent flooding, and the stoves would have an automatic shut-off feature, Fluharty said.

The entire first floor of the apartment building would be dedicated to amenities such as a teaching kitchen, a health and wellness area, and a front desk that's staffed around the clock.

Fluharty said her organization is collaborating with the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services on the proposed project. Among its many roles, the center would monitor the progress of residents.

"It is our goal to create a model that's scalable," Fluharty said.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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