“Out and About Part 4: Inclusion in the Catskills”
My sister M is visiting me from Singapore, and being the granola type, she wanted us to go do a retreat someplace quiet. We are currently at the Sanivan Holistic Retreat and Spa in Hurleyville, New York, which is in the foothills of the Catskills. I admire the crunchy thing, though it’s not really my forte, but I made it through a six-mile walk yesterday, then left M to circle the labyrinth. We are all about the shiatsu and clean eats today. The spa owners are a delight, and we are learning so much about how to be more in tune with our bodies.
There is something very exciting about Sullivan County, which is where Hurleyville is located. It is home to the Center for Discovery, which is basically a school/home/farm/arts/jobs program for autistic people. I cannot believe how lucky I am to come all the way here and find Autism Land!
The owners of the retreat were telling us about how the Center has basically revived the town, which had been rather economically downtrodden. And they also mentioned how inclusion is a huge part of every endeavor the Center has introduced. The Center is the biggest employer in Sullivan County, and has made it a point to integrate autism services into the spirit of the life here, which includes living off the land, making holistic eating a priority, and bringing the larger community into the lives of the autistic people who live here. They are also planning a hospital that will specialize in serving people with developmental disabilities. YES PLEASE.
The trail we walked yesterday is called Rails to Trails, and the paved section of the old railroad which we were on was done up especially so that getting outside would be a real possibility for people with acute disabilities, and also their caregivers. I don’t know how to express eloquently enough how touching that is. Getting out and about is by far the biggest challenge for so many of us, and to see a group of people commit so passionately to making this happen really inspires me. In the heart of the trail, with the mossy rocks looming over us, casting a deep shade on everything, and forcing us to peer hard if we wanted to spot the turtles with their nosy little faces peeping out of their shells, it’s easy to imagine a world where people remember that autistic people need access to natural living too, and their caregivers need a supportive environment where going out in the world is less trauma and more healing.
Projects like this only work if there is an inherent symbiosis. Because the surrounding area benefits from having inclusion, everyone is invested in seeing it flourish. I don’t know if rural living is for us as a family, but I would love to see more efforts like this in cities and suburbs, viz endeavors that arise naturally from the lifestyle, landscape, and vibe of each place. The critical factor is the purposeful creation of a community—one where autism inclusion is conscious, not erratically contrived; where the needs are realistically addressed and there is an inherent respect for autism as a natural way of being; and where caregivers are supported so that they can thrive too.
I took so long to finish this piece that we are now back in New Jersey. A and I have been having a joyful reunion. I missed his little face and his beaky nose.
Part of getting out in the world is respite for caregivers. I really want to give a shout out to M for encouraging me to go with her to such a quietly inspiring place, and to Saniye and Ivan of Sanivan, who gently restored me to myself. Living in the noisy bits of New Jersey, it’s hard to believe that such selfless people exist, but they do. I am blessed to know them, and hope to return someday soon.