National Autism Awareness Month:
The Challenge of Preparing for the Future
by Lauren Piscitelle
With the arrival of National Autism Awareness Month, we have the
opportunity to reflect on the growing need to understand and face a
challenge that is affecting many families. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent data shows that 1 in 110
children have an autism spectrum disorder. This month, there are a
variety of ways to take action, whether it’s wearing a puzzle piece
(the symbol of autism), becoming more knowledgeable or just
In this space we’ll be sharing a story about a local family whose
son has autism, and how they are preparing for his future.
Unlocking & Completing the Puzzle
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a group of developmental
disabilities causing major social, communication and behavioral
challenges appearing during the first three years of life. The CDC
has learned that no single factor explains the changes in identified
autism spectrum disorders prevalence during the time period that was
The Autism Spectrum consists of three types of disorders. People
with Asperger Syndrome typically have milder symptoms including
social challenges and unusual behaviors and interests. Those
diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise
Specified usually have fewer and milder symptoms than those with
Autistic Disorder is what most people think of when hearing the
word “autism.” Symptoms linked to this type of autism may include
unusual behaviors and interest in objects or specialized
information, reactions to sensations or ways of learning.
Furthermore, some signs to look for include: lack of or delay in
spoken language, repetitive use of language and/or mannerisms,
little or no eye contact, lack of interest in peer relationships,
lack of spontaneous or make-believe play and persistent fixation on
parts of objects.
There is still no explanation about the causes of ASDs. There are
many studies about different risk factors, yet the cause is still
A Local Family’s Experience
Local businessman Jim Lyman, pictured with his son Eli, has been a
driving force in starting "Roses for Autism."
When Jim Lyman and his then wife, Alicia, found out that their 8
year old son, Eli, had autism, they didn’t know anything about the
developmental disorder and spent a long time trying to grasp an
They learned that there was just not enough information out there
about autism — the Internet was just becoming a go-to place for
When Alicia saw Come Back Jack — a highly informative documentary
that chronicles the journey of two parents responding to the autism
diagnosis of their son, Jack — they decided to meet with Dr. Arnold
Miller in Boston, the same doctor that worked with Jack. “It was an
enlightening process for us,” Jim Lyman said. Although they did not
ultimately forge ahead with Dr. Miller’s method, it opened up new
possibilities and gave the Lymans new ideas for treatment.
In 2000, around the time Eli was diagnosed on the autism
spectrum, he was attending school in a different district and the
Lymans looked to former State Representative Howard Klebanoff for
help. Klebanoff is nationally recognized in the fight for special
education and the educational rights of students. There was a new
program available for Eli to try called Project Learn, but the
Lymans felt, once again, that the program was not fit for him.
The family learned that different programs can yield a wide
variety of results. They eventually enrolled Eli into The Gengras
Center in West Hartford. The Center is a unique, special education
program for elementary, middle and high school students with
intellectual, developmental, learning disabilities and related
Lyman felt The Gengras Center was a “phenomenal program.” When
Eli began attending the Center, there were only eight children on
the autism spectrum in his program. Three years later, one-third of
the population at the Center was on the spectrum.
Eli made great progress, however the he 45-minute bus ride to the
program was challenging so they began searching for a new program.
The May Institute in Massachusetts, one of the country’s largest
concentrations of clinicians with expertise in autism, became the
final piece to completing Eli’s educational puzzle.
It was a big decision for Alicia and Jim to enroll Eli. “There
were hard feelings,” Lyman said. “We thought, ‘Did we do the right
thing?’ There was a lot of guilt, but after two months, we realized
we did do the right thing.”
Eli’s program provides comprehensive individualized services,
affording each person served the opportunity to achieve their
greatest level of independence.
There are Growing Possibilities
Matt was the first employee for Roses for Autism at Pinchbeck’s Rose Farm
in Guilford. Photo courtesy of Connect-Ability. Photo by Frank Marches.
The national unemployment rate for adults with ASDs is a
staggering 88 percent. This astounding fact and knowing that Eli had
only five years at the May Institute, motivated Jim Lyman to begin
thinking about his son’s future. Being part of a family that is
known for its farms, Lyman began a quest to find out what
opportunities there could be for Eli and others like him. Lyman went
to different parenting groups and began to find a common
denominator: the farm environment. This vocational opportunity was
appealing to Lyman, and something he was comfortable with — he
currently works in farm insurance.
During World Autism Awareness Day in 2008 at the State Capitol,
Lyman ran into Julie Hipp, an old friend and the board president of
the Connecticut Autism Spectrum Resource Center (www.ct-asrc.org) in
Wallingford. She loved the idea of a farm employing by autistic
adults because she also has a son on the autism spectrum. Hipp
promised to help Lyman as long as he wrote down a business plan. As
Lyman and Hipp were reconnecting, Lyman’s college friend and client,
Tom Pinchbeck was ready to close his rose farm due to the
competition of overseas operations. Lyman told Pinchbeck that he
couldn’t close the farm because he had an idea that would would
reposition his crop as “caused-based.” The two met and Pinchbeck was
ready to take on the vocational program.
Hipp contacted Ability Beyond Disability, a non-profit
organization located in New York and Connecticut. Coincidentally,
Tom Fanning, president and CEO of Ability Beyond Disability
(www.abilitybeyonddisability.org), was working on a five-year
strategic plan that would provide new possibilities for providing
support to twice as many individuals with disabilities. “All the
pieces came together,” Lyman explained.
Ability Beyond Disability approved $360,000 in 2009 for a new
vocational program called Growing Possibilities. The program is
dedicated to growing independence in the business world for
individuals with autism and other disabilities. Its first business
endeavor is Roses for Autism at Pinchbeck’s Rose Farm in Guilford.
Roses for Autism
The collaboration between friends and associates resulted in
Roses for Autism at Pinchbeck’s Rose Farm in Guilford. Operated by
Growing Possibilities, and supported by Ability Beyond Disability
and CT-ASRC, the program not only provides individuals on the autism
spectrum the chance to learn the skills necessary to maintain
meaningful employment, but also serves as a model that can be
replicated nationwide to develop unique opportunities for them as a
whole new competitive workforce.
From cutting roses in the greenhouse to creating bouquets in an
assembly line, and from packing and delivering orders to even
cleaning the farm’s wood burning boiler, the 40 percent of employees
on the autism spectrum are, as Hipp puts it, “learning by doing.”
“Children and adults on the autism spectrum learn best by
errorless teaching and experiencing many situations,” Hipp said. “In
school, a skilled teacher facilitates the linking of theses
experiences so the child on the autism spectrum learns how to
generalize skills and builds a broad array of experiential
The goal of Roses for Autism is to provide jobs, training and
support for 25-50 individuals on the autism spectrum within a
transitional program. The objective is for employees to learn the
skills needed to maintain meaningful employment and move into other
Hipp continued, “One of the challenges with autism is the
tendency to ‘chunk learn,’ which means that the person learns the
task in the situation that is experienced and has difficulty
applying the concept to a similar situation. Therefore, more
experiences and ‘linkages’ can be an important piece in the learning
“Roses for Autism not only provides a transitional vocational
opportunity but another learning environment so that adults on the
autism spectrum learn the social implications of working and the
hidden ‘curriculum’ of work. The more integrated experiences the
better to teach generalization of both technical and social skills.”
Roses for Autism is just a model that will hopefully prove that
autistic adults can work as part of a viable workforce. If more and
more farms begin using this model, the 88 percent can get knocked
down by a lot, assured Lyman. And for a parent of a special needs
child, it provides a great sense of relief.
From One Parent to Another
It was a challenge when Jim and Alicia had first learned that Eli
had autism. “There are stages you go through like denial and
frustration,” Lyman said. “There’s a point after awhile where you
are driving so hard that you are alienating others around you.”
“Reach out to groups,” Lyman advises parents. “There are people
that understand where you are coming from. Afterwards, you
understand it, take a step back and accept it.”
Lyman also suggests that parents research a Special Needs Trust.
After putting a Special Needs Trust in place and funding it, he was
relieved knowing that Eli’s resources will be managed properly and
he will still be eligible for public assistance benefits.
No matter what, Lyman reassures, “The opportunities do show up —
you don’t have to build it all in one day.”
Pinchbeck’s Rose Farm is located at 929 Boston Post Road in
Guilford. To order flowers, call 203-453-2186 or visit
If you would like to speak to Lyman about getting involved,
donating funds, or to ask for advice (even
anonymously), you may
contact him at 860-662-1007 or
The Internet has become a commonplace to look up information
about Autism and Autism research. Here are a few website
Autism Society of America is the nation’s leading grassroots
autism organization, existing to improve lives of all affected by
autism. Learn more at www.autism-society.org.
Autism Speaks is the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy
organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes,
prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness
of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of
individuals with autism and their families. Learn more at
Ability Beyond Disability is a not for profit organization that
was founded in 1953 by a group of parents who wanted a better life
for their children with disabilities. They have spearheaded new
initiatives and pilot programs in Connecticut and New York. Learn
more at www.abilitybeyonddisability.org.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s site, “Learn the
Signs. Act Early,” offers free materials, new data and more
resources for parents, healthcare providers and early childhood
educators. Learn more at www.cdc.gov/actearly.
CT Autism Spectrum Resource Center works to help those on the
autism spectrum through support, recreation and education to work
toward the goal of leading full and productive lives. For more
information, visit www.ct-asrc.org.
Editor's Note: This is an unedited version of the piece that is
running in the April 2010 issue of Connecticut Parent Magazine.