It’s the simple things, like new friends and making memories that Jamie Wheeler-Matlock wanted for her daughter.
Like most moms, Jamie needed to keep her daughter busy this summer. But for Jamie, finding things for Austen to do had its challenges.
“Of course, I’m different than most kids without autism,” Austen said, beaming. “In fact, being autistic is a whole lot of fun.”
Jamie is trying to solve a growing problem in the adult autistic community, she said, by creating an organization for higher-functioning autistic adults like her 20-year-old daughter.
“I think it’s a need that has to be fulfilled for our community because every single day, thousands of kids are aging out, and there’s just not enough for them to do,” she said. “They’re not all Rain Man, they’re not all Temple Grandin.”
In January, the former English professor created Austen's Autistic Adventures.
“I loved teaching, but I love this more,” Jamie said. “They are capable. They’re very creative, and I want to see that population reach their potential because they’re worth knowing.”
Her nonprofit helps nurture social skills and community outreach for teens and adults on the autism spectrum. The group meets for 2-3 hours a day and goes on daily outings like going to the movies or visiting museums. They also host volunteers willing to talk about their careers.
“Any skill, passion, workplace that you can share with us, great,” Jaime said, adding that they operate solely on donations and paid-event fees. “I would really love to get a van to make it easier for pickup and drop-off.”
The close-knit group is visiting Jamie’s friend, Diana, for a baking lesson. They’re decorating cupcakes and making gelato. It’s hard to imagine the dining room table surrounded by young adults only just met this year.
“They’re so nice to me and they care about me,” Austen said. “I’d be so lonely [without them.]”