Run with Tommy: Mother creates path to independence for autistic adults
Published 9:18 am Wednesday, May 24, 2023
RESERVE — Inspired by her 21-year-old son, local mother Shuntrell Bering founded the Louisiana Autism Society to promote independence, a living wage, and a path to homeownership for adults with autism.
Employment opportunities in greenhouses, a farmers’ market and a catfish farm comprise the first phase of Bering’s vision, which will expand to include individual housing and access to support and resources for adults with autism. With plans to break ground in 2024, Bering is raising funds through a “Run with Tommy” 5K Levee Run/Walk scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, May 27 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Reserve.
Individual registration is $30 and includes a T-shirt with admission. Group registration is offered at a discounted rate of $100 (four per group), and individual T-shirts will be sold for $28 each. Louisiana Autism Society members will also be selling food and lemonade during the event. Additional information is available at louisianaautismsociety.org.
Bering prays that every step on the levee will be one step closer to the future she envisions for her son.
Tommy is known in the community for his energetic spirit and love of music. He can often be found dancing, playing the keyboard, or serving as an usher at church, but despite his outgoing personality, social skills don’t come naturally to him. Bering has watched her son struggle with loneliness and a desire for independence that seems constantly met with roadblocks.
“After high school, there was really not much for him to do. Adults that have extreme disabilities have a day program to go to, but Tommy is in between.
I call around places and hear, oh he’s too old, too young, not severe enough. I’ve taken it upon myself to raise money for my own charity to accommodate high functioning autistic adults in Louisiana,” Bering said. “I really would love to start in St. John Parish because I’m from here.”
Bering has started forming community partnerships with local stores and restaurants that are ready to offer support during phase one of the Louisiana Autism Society’s initiative. In addition to hiring adults with autism to work in greenhouses and a farmers’ market, the foundation will employ support staff. A social worker will be on staff at all times to respond to emotional needs and help individuals cope with work-related conflicts.
“If they have a problem at work, they can go to the social worker and work it out instead of being fired. It will be a safe place for them to work,” Bering said.
Drivers will also be employed to transport individuals to the work site since many adults with autism do not have a driver’s license or access to transportation. Phase One also includes an adult lounge for autistic employees.
Young adults who have aged out of foster care system can also find a safe place in the Louisiana Autism Society and build their resumes with manager and assistant manager roles within the farmers’ market.
Phase two involves housing for individuals with autism who wish to live independently from their families. According to Vice President Adrian Bruneau, support will be offered to autistic adults whose caregivers have passed away or are otherwise unable to provide for them.
For more information about the foundation, visit Louisianaautismsociety.org.