Autism advocate works to build new center in Austin


by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and photojournalist CHRIS SHADROCK

Posted on July 25, 2013 at 5:23 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 25 at 5:41 PM

AUSTIN -- Dealing with a child with autism is a journey into the unknown. Many families feel like they have nowhere to turn, especially when those kids become grownups.

Now one organization plans to build a place in Austin where those families can find help and adults with autism can learn lessons for a lifetime.

For Polly Tommey, life revolves around her son Billy and helping him and her family cope with a life-altering disorder.

“He was diagnosed with severe autism and severe behavior problems,” Tommey said. “He was completely non-verbal. He didn't seem to realize he was part of our family. We'd take him out to a park, and he'd run and run and never look back.”

Now 17, Billy has come a long way.

“He does speak, and he reads, and he has skills. He just needs to be given support. My big passion is that people like Billy, and there's so many of them, can give something back to society if we just give them the chance,” Tommey said.

In 2007, Tommey started The Autism Trust in Britain. The facility houses a residential and outreach center for adults with autism and gives them employment and training opportunities.

There's also a shop, Polly's Place, that features artwork and items handmade by people with autism.

Now Tommey is working to build the same kind of center in Austin.

“At the moment, we're looking for a building that's large enough to get us going. We don't want to be sitting here for three, four years raising money to buy land because the longer we don't build The Autism Trust, the more adults are left in a venerable situation,“ Tommey said.

Ryan Parmenter's son has autism. He says many parents accept that they'll be their child's lifelong caretaker.

“But what happens if something happens to me? It's just this kind of stress that's always there,“ Parmenter said.

He believes the new facility will not only educate the public about autism, it will be a safe haven for those who need it most.

“Having a facility where parents know that their child will be taken care of and have a place to live and work and receive services for the rest of his life is just a really solid piece of mind,” Parmenter said.

Right now Tommey is working to raise money for the project and is hoping Central Texans will help.

“It's very important that parents in Austin know that they're not alone, because that's the one big thing that parents fear and live with,” Tommey said. “We're here, and we're building somewhere where everybody in Austin can have this amazing facility and get help.”

Click here for more information about The Autism Trust.