Alyssa Burnett and Barbara Burnett

Barbara and Alyssa Burnett

As parents of a young woman living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Charles and Barbara Burnett have firsthand experience with a distressing reality: there’s a precipitous drop-off in educational, recreational and vocational opportunities once people with ASD and other developmental disabilities turn 21 and age out of school. But the need for these services doesn’t go away.

For years, the Burnetts worked to address this disparity, founding the Tessera Center for Lifelong Learning in 2004. In July 2014, the Burnetts and Tessera donated $7 million, including Tessera’s space in Bothell, to launch Seattle Children’s Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center. This groundbreaking center offers a variety of 12-week classes (ranging from art to yoga to independent living skills) to individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities. Classes are taught by community members who are experts in the class topics with guidance from Seattle Children’s behavior specialists. The hope is for instructors to gain the experience they need to return to the community and continue working with this important population.

While offering non-medical services for adults seems beyond Seattle Children’s usual scope, Dr. Gary Stobbe, director of the Adult Transition Program at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, explains, “These are lifelong conditions and our commitment to the individuals and families affected doesn’t stop at a certain age. Providing services for adults in our region allows us to meet their needs while also honing a model that can be replicated by organizations across the country.”