Arizona nonprofit helping people living with autism gain more independence

First Place AZ is collaborating with Creighton University Health Sciences to help residents learn social skills and basic health care needs.
Published: Apr. 5, 2023 at 10:18 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Independence is what most parents want for their kids, for them to have the basic skills needed to thrive on their own. It’s the same goal for people living with autism. First Place AZ, a local nonprofit, focuses its energy and resources on helping people living with autism and other neurodiversities, such as Down Syndrome, through a collaboration with Creighton University.

The partnership started a couple of years ago. Health Sciences students visit the nonprofit’s independent living apartment complex, First Place Phoenix, where about 60 residents live.

The Chief Operating Officer, Nancy Ottmann, said the nonprofit aims to give parents peace of mind. “They can feel comfortable for their son and daughter to be able to reside and be a productive member in society and be as independent as they have and can be,” said Ottmann.

The students help residents learn social skills, injury prevention tips, and basic health care needs such as medicine organization to avoid severe side effects or overdose.

Those are skills David Biederman, who lives at First Place, said the collaboration is helping him gain more independence. “Because if I’m not sure If I’ll ever truly be able to live on my own, but like, I know that there’s not always going to be like my mom, dad or someone like that,” said Biederman.

Jillian Ramos, a pharmacy student, said she loves chemistry and has always wanted a career where she could help people. “People do need help, and you’re in the world with everybody else and you’re not just alone in the world, so if you help out your neighbor, then you have lover for everybody,” said Ramos.

Aside from receiving school credit, Ramos said she’s also gaining experience that will help her in her career. She’s learning communication skills with other students studying for Occupation Therapy and Physical Therapy and also helping First Place residents. “This is really important, like as soon as I graduate and go out in the field, because I do have to communicate with doctors. I have to communicate with nurses or other health professionals as well to make sure our patients get better,” said Ramos.

“It doesn’t matter what someone says. We can all do it,” said Bierdman. He says residents also visited Creighton University to learn how the curriculum applies to what they’re learning at First Place.