After two years as a resident of First Place–Phoenix, Matt, who has autism, has learned how to live more independently—on his best days and even those that don’t go quite as planned—thanks to First Place’s supportive people, property and technology. He’s definitely exceeding our expectations and enjoying life!

Matt knows how to use a keycard, operate every appliance in his home and stay in touch with family. He’s quite adept at navigating technology apps—from his iWatch, iPhone and iPad to his Ring home security system alerting him to guests, Alexa Echo for music, weather and shopping lists, iGuard for stove safety and various First Place-sponsored platforms.

Problem-solving has been an important focus of Matt’s behavioral therapy with the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC). When he was young, we called it “playful obstruction.” Today, we simply call it “life” as he learns what to do and where to go about a lost key or misplaced wallet, or when he’s run out of his favorite food.

Developing a home for someone like Matt doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to build skills and routines, make friends and benefit from all the advantages of a connected, supportive community—and a one-of-a-kind place like First Place.

Even during this COVID-19 era, life remains fun, healthy and empowering for Matt and for us as parents. While there’s more for us all to master together, we know we’ll get there with the right people, environment and supports in the days and years ahead.

None of this would be possible without the passion and dedication of First Place staff. Every individual who works here shows up every day ready to serve every resident. Not only do they carry out their duties in a culture of professionalism, diligence and kindness, but they also understand the deeply personal aspect of their commitment to and involvement in residents’ daily lives, including their ups and downs, joys and newfound independence.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank all those who have made and continue to make Matt’s life outside the family home possible—including neighbors and staff who take time to enjoy a spirited game of Uno and Scrabble with him most any time of the day or night.

During this season of gratitude and in the years to come, hopeful hearts will make us stronger and continue building our diverse community of pride, purpose and endless possibilities.

This month marks the two-year anniversary of the First Place–Phoenix groundbreaking. I’m happy to report that our culture of inclusion and learning is alive and well.

We are enjoying the daily comings and goings of residents, including First Place Transition Academy participants, as they head off to work, study, volunteer, shop or simply to recreate. Seasonal highlights include everything from visits to the Desert Botanical Garden, ZooLights and the Musical Instrument Museum to shows like Elf the Musical, Winnie the Pooh and Swan Lake—with sunny hikes, holiday choirs and festivals in between.

Within First Place, shared experiences and collective memories are building our culture and an authentic and active community life. Consider these weekly happenings: Sunday brunch, Taco Tuesday, Thirsty Thursday, bingo night (called in four languages by one of our residents) and barbecues at Joey’s Grill. And consider friendships being created naturally and nurtured daily!

On a very personal note, our 27-year-old son Matt has embarked on his journey of transition and taken us right along with him as he teaches us daily how best to support him. Together with First Place staff, private therapists and SARRC’s parent training, we are helping to shape his new routines and identify where he needs assistance.

Consider how we’re progressing together toward Matt’s more independent life at First Place:

Still a challenge: interpreting Matt’s tricky “yes” and “no” answers. When asked whether he brushed his teeth or took his medicine, he may answer no because he hears the question as a repeated request and doesn’t want to repeat the task if he’s already completed it. First Place support specialists are helping us explore other ways to frame questions. 

Matt is enjoying Bingo night, yoga, bowling and all kinds of community activities, including a recent Suns game with fellow residents. When he hosts dinner parties for neighbors, chicken drumettes, chips, cookies and apples are his go-to menu items, along with UNO, Scrabble, his favorite songs (The Beatles tunes included) and those of his guests.

Together with like-minded parent, grandparents, passionate pioneers and our uniquely supportive community, we are expanding Matt’s sphere of opportunity and independence, and helping him—and us—embark on a major new life chapter. Thank you to each and every supporter of First Place for believing and trusting in us—and giving us all greater peace of mind this holiday season and throughout the coming years.   

Matt’s Mom