This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Mas Casadevall, a small community in the village of Serinyà, Spain where autistic individuals enjoy life as they work in different workshop settings (http://www.mascasadevall.net/). I had the opportunity to visit this community while attending an international congress in Barcelona. Years have passed by but the visit still remains an ardent memory. I could not have been more impressed or more emotionally overwhelmed.
Have you ever seen a multitude of autistic individuals smile with pride as you watched them work? A smile that came from knowing that they were performing useful labor, that they were gainfully employed, that they were contributing something useful to society? At Mas Casadevall occupational therapy has taken a practical twist offering those interested with appropriate life skills for different job ventures. All of this while enjoying life in a pastoral setting.
In the farm, participants help breeding and fattening of lambs and poultry, as well as collecting eggs. Taking into consideration all of the farm animals and a multitude of dogs in the property, I have to wonder if farming is how animal-assisted therapy began? It seemed quite clear that many of the children had a strong attachment to animals.
Participants help plant and cultivate the harvest. A significant portion of the food collected goes to the restaurant that they also manage. They elaborate artisan paper and make envelopes, cards, and decorations with the same. At the pottery workshop, individuals make jugs, trays and lamps. Pottery is also used at their restaurant. Candles are made in collaboration with the company Roura, and many of their products are sold as Christmas presents. I had the opportunity to go to the shop where most of these products are sold. Although I brought back many of their products, I have to warn the reader that the electrical plug for their lamps are specific to European nations (voltage there is 220-240 volts and 110-120 volts in the US). The lamp I received, was designed by Andre Ricard and certainly makes a nice addition to my desk.
I had the opportunity to visit their restaurant and taste their delicious croquettes. The older lady in-charge seemed Swiss or German, but the staff in the kitchen and serving as waitresses were all ASD individuals. The restaurant was meticulously clean. The clock on the wall was not digital. The hands on the clock gave a better representation of time span to the staff. All of the staff was quite proper, well educated and knowledgeable regarding the food items on the menu.
Mas Casadevall is changing the world one ASD individual at a time. It has also help change the world-view of autism. It has provided a holistic template for other countries to follow. This is a truly integrated approach that attends to the educational, health, and social requirements of the participants. The end result is a marked improvement in the quality of life of the participants.
The by-laws of the Foundation that created Mas Casadevall state, in their second article: The provision of support via places to live and work for young persons and adults of Catalonia with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), in order to attend to their medical, health, educational and employment needs, as well as to those of legal aid, with the utmost attention to their social possibilities, are the principle aims of the Foundation.
The task commended by the founders has, in this way, one basic condition: with the utmost attention to the social possibilities of the residents or users. That is to say: improving their autonomy and independence. From this the motto of the Center is derived: ”educating an autonomous behavior”.
I am proud to say that the city of Louisville has developed a similar model and teaches life skills to people within the autism spectrum within a commercial mall setting. The Academy at St. Andrews (http://www.theacademy-standrews.org/upper-school.html) is housed at the MidCity Mall wherein ASD individuals are trained to participate in the work environment of participating businesses. The efforts have been spearheaded by the Metts family (Sandy and David). More on this in a future blog.
At present we offer our warmest wishes to Mas Casadevall (1988-2013) on their twenty-fifth anniversary. You have provided an example for others to follow.