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Caring Hearts House

December 11, 2011, 10:00 PM by Angela Kennecke

Caring Hearts House
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Today there's a lot more awareness about children with autism, their challenges, their special needs and their gifts.

But what happens once that child grows up? Many times adults with autism count on family members to continue to care for them, long after most kids have branched out on their own.

But a new home in Sioux Falls is helping adults with autism live independently. The "Caring Hearts" home designed to meet the needs of autistic adults.

Mitch Riley was diagnosed as autistic at age two. Now at 24, he's doing something his parents never thought possible--living independently.

"Every answer we got, he was going to be with us, which really drove that problem of, what if something happens to us, what happens to Mitch?" Don Riley said.

An added challenge for the Rileys? Mitch's disability doesn't allow him to speak. But the Rileys approached Southeastern Behavioral Health Care with an idea.

"Our dream would be that we have a home, specifically built for him and we'd like to build that," Don Riley said.

So the Rileys formed a non-profit organization and partnered with Southeastern Behavioral HealthCare, Lloyd Companies and South Dakota Housing to make that dream a reality with the Caring Hearts home. All six residents here are developmentally disabled; five are autistic.

"Everything is on a nice one-level, so people who have movement problems don't have to deal with staircases, going up and down don't have the possibility of falling. There are a lot of little things that have gone into it from handrails, to the color of the paint they chose," Newt Anderson said.

It was very important to the Rileys that each resident have their own personal living space and so much more.

"He has a swing set outside and he loves to swing. The fact that he gets to decorate his own home. If you go in his room, all of his DVDs are there; his whole room is nothing but Christmas right now. If it were Halloween it would be nothing but Halloween. Just the fact he gets to do that, this is his home," Lisa Riley said.

While all six residents have their own space and privacy they can also socialize and a staff member from Southeastern Behavior Health is on duty, 24/7.

"He's on his own, yet he's not here. I just always know there's someone always with him and it's reassuring to know he is on his own, yet someone is always going to be taking care of him," Lisa Riley said.

The Rileys didn't know how Mitch would do, but in the last year since the home opened, they've seen him thrive.

"While each person has their own separate need and they're fairly severe, we're also trying to promote as much independence as possible. We want them to be able to go as far as they can go in life. Where that is, we want them to achieve the most they can achieve," Anderson said.

"I mean that's something we prayed about. My family prayed about. Don's family prayed about; that this would be his home and he'd want to be here and that's what happened," Lisa Riley said.

Now other homes for developmentally disabled adults based on the Rileys concept are being developed in South Dakota.

"So I think the quality of care for the individual with disabilities across the state of SD is improving because of something we started a couple of years ago," Don Riley said.

"You've just got to keep trying and dreaming because our dream came true. This Caring Hearts is a wonderful Godsend," Lisa Riley said.

Southeastern Behavioral Health also operates another new home like the Caring Hearts house for developmentally disabled adults in Sioux Falls called the "Journey House." And a third new home is in the works, with the location yet to be chosen.

© 2012 KELOLAND TV. All Rights Reserved.

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