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Jefferson County, MO: "Little House of Neurodiversity" aims to help people with autism

Oct 23, 2022, Jefferson County [MO] Leader: Little House of Neurodiversity aims to help a spectrum of people

The group was started late last year by two women from Hillsboro, Rebecca Manion and Heidi Rosenthal, and it advocates for and supports county residents who are termed “neurodiverse,” as well as their families and other caregivers.

According to the group’s website, neurodiverse takes in people with a variety of conditions, including those who are on the autism spectrum. Others have learning disabilities or ADD (attention-deficit disorder) or have genetic, medical or neurological conditions.

Some of the people the group is trying to reach are high-performing but may have trouble functioning in society….

Manion said her son is on the autism spectrum, and while services were available to him when he was attending school, things changed when he turned 18.

“There was not a lot available,” she said. “If someone doesn’t want to live at home with their parents for their entire lives, the government doesn’t have a lot of options. He moved out and went to live in a house with another person, but that didn’t go well at all. When we tried to help him, he didn’t want to come back home at his age.”

Manion said she and her husband bought him a small house in Festus – and the idea for Little House of Neurodiversity was hatched, even if Manion didn’t realize it at the time.

“I lived with him until he got on his feet,” Manion said of her son. “I understood his need to get out and grow. He needed to be himself. We did find a state program where people will come in and help him and support him, and he’s doing very well.”

Meanwhile, Rosenthal got interested in autism-related issues, both through her life and her work.

She said two of her children were diagnosed on the spectrum….

A video producer and director, Rosenthal became even more immersed in the subject after she produced and directed a documentary called “The Spectrum of Autism” and connected with other parents of children diagnosed as neurodiverse.

Still, it took a chance text message from Rosenthal to Manion in October 2021 to get the wheels turning on the Little House of Neurodiversity.

“Our kids played together when they were young, but I think I hadn’t connected with Heidi for 15 years when she texted me last fall,” Manion said. “We got to talking, and we decided we both wanted to do something to help neurodiverse people and their families.”

Manion said they looked into the legalities of establishing the group, and by spring, it was up and running.

Starting small

“We’ve always had multiple plans, but our idea has always been to start small and blossom from there,” Manion said.

The demand, she said, is definitely there.

“According to statistics I’ve seen, one in 60 school children is diagnosed as being along the autism spectrum each year,” Manion said. “That means in a county the size of Jefferson, there’s likely to be at least 1,000 families who need some help.”…

“And because Jefferson County is a large county, we’ve purposefully got sites lined up at churches in all four corners, so that someone in Arnold doesn’t always have to drive to Hillsboro.”

The respite dates are held at New Hope Methodist Church in Arnold, Hillsboro Christian Church, Spring Hills Presbyterian Church in Byrnes Mill and Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in the Festus area.

The club’s next building block is establishing activities….

“I think it would be good to have an audio-visual activity club, where people can learn video recording and editing,” Manion said.

“I obviously have a background in that,” Rosenthal said. “The idea is to tap into their interests, and help them grow and flourish, find out their passions and go with it.”

“We’re only limited by our volunteers on what they want to help us with. If we get support, we’d like to offer it,” Manion said.

Down the road

Rosenthal said she and Manion have talked with businesses around the county about opening up some employment opportunities or internships for some of the neurodiverse population….

Eventually, Manion said, the group would like to see a small community of tiny houses established to allow some of the neurodiverse to have their own households – with assistance – and not live under their parents’ roofs….

The group also will hold its first fundraiser, a Halloween party, from 5:30-9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, at the Hillsboro Community Civic Center, 10349 Business 21….

People play a game of Uno during a Little House of Neurodiversity respite day.


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