Seattle Children’s meets a critical community need, offering services for adults with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities.

The goal of providing recreational, educational, vocational and social opportunities to adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities became a reality in 2013 as plans for the Seattle Children’s Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center moved toward completion. The center opened its doors in January 2014.

Burnett Center_Lead Photo_Burnett Center

“The center’s unique programming model offers a variety of classes and activities tailored to meet the very diverse needs of our learners. We’ll have classes for adults who may be college bound or on the path to independent living. Other classes will be geared for adults who are more significantly impacted and require lifelong support,” notes Tammy Mitchel, the center’s program manager.

The 12-week-long classes will be held throughout the year and include social and recreational opportunities, health and wellness topics and independent living and vocational skills. Community members who are subject matter experts will teach the classes with guidance from Seattle Children’s behavioral specialists. The model is designed to encourage instructors to continue working with this population in the larger community by providing them with experience and confidence.

“We hope the center will be like a pebble’s ripple in a pond,” says Dr. Gary Stobbe, who leads the Adult Transition Program at Seattle Children's Autism Center. “Teachers and service providers want to work with this population but don’t know how. Employers do too. If the center can help build some bridges, adults with ASD and their families will have better access to services that can help them thrive in the community.”

Developing pathways toward addressing the startling drop-off in services and programs for adults with ASD and other developmental disabilities is the center's ultimate goal. Opportunities for continued growth and learning practically vanish once this population ages out of the public school system. “Older teens and 20-somethings with ASD and other developmental disabilities are being launched into adulthood without the tools they need to succeed,” Stobbe explains. “Many stay at home or experience mental health problems like anxiety and depression. It's a serious issue.”

While offering non-medical services for adults seems beyond Children's usual scope, it aligns with the philosophy of Seattle Children's Autism Center.

“These are lifelong conditions. Gary Stobbe_Body Photo_Burnett CenterOur commitment to the individuals and families doesn't stop at a certain age,” says Stobbe. “We'd like to see the Burnett Adult Life Center become a hub for the autism community in the north Puget Sound area, while simultaneously demonstrating the value of offering these kinds of services to adults, and ultimately inspiring others to reproduce the concept across the country.”

The center was launched by a $7 million donation from Charles and Barbara Burnett, and the support of other donors to the Tessera Center for Lifelong Learning. Like too many parents, the Burnetts realized their daughter, Alyssa (who is profoundly affected by autism), would find herself without any services or programs to help her transition to adulthood once she aged out of public school at age 21. Their struggle inspired them to found Tessera in 2004 before collaborating with Children's. The center now operates out of Tessera's former space in Bothell.

The overwhelming community response to the center demonstrates the pent up need for services of this type. As the teaching model is fine-tuned, and more classes are offered, more people – like Alyssa Burnett – will have opportunities for lifelong growth, recreation and education.

“Providing services for adults in the Puget Sound region will help us fill a void in the community and hone a model that we hope will be useful to other organizations.”
– Dr. Gary Stobbe