Adults with autism have found a very special home located in the valley of the Elbe River in Northern Germany. Two sites, called Seerau and Elbufer, offer 35 individuals with autism a permanent home within a rural setting. The Weidenhof was founded in 1982 by a couple from Hamburg, Helen and Werner Blohm, who started a foundation that supports the center. They had not been able to find a suitable home for their daughter, who had autism and required life-long specialized attention within a small facility. At the time, most German rehabilitation centers were large communities.
The Blohms wanted a home where individual attention to the needs and interests of the residents was provided and where staff would be highly sensitive to the personality of all group members. Both Wiedenhof sites have become renowned as model homes within as well as outside of Germany. The well-trained staff matches activities to the interests of the residents, for example, assigning individuals with a high activity level to gardening or wood work, while individuals with repetitive tendencies are given the opportunity to work in the weaving department. Others who like collecting objects can be involved in collecting eggs in the morning and packaging them. Individuals with sensory needs often enjoy weighing and packaging tea leaves or candle making.
The activities offered are designed to be functional from the perspective of the individual with autism, such as getting wood from the forest, chopping it and finally making a fire in the fireplace. Besides facilitating daily and leisure activities, a guiding principle at the centers is relating to the residents as partners, to understand their conflicts and to help solve their problems. Since its beginning the Weidenhof has continually developed and adjusted to the needs of the residents. Besides four main groups, two additional homes have been created.
There are now also two single apartments outside of the premises. In addition, two training apartments have been created within the Weidenhof, where training in independent living is practiced. The educational and social training aspects and a fixed daily schedule as well as enjoyable outings are important components of the Weidenhof. Since the homes are located on a large site, a garden as well as additional facilities such as a therapeutic workshop, a ceramic center, a center for weaving and an art center have been established.
Individuals with autism are assigned to specific activities based on their interests and talents with opportunities to change to a variety of activities in a flexible manner. The items the residents produce are sold at the shop on the premises at Seerau as well as at markets in the immediate neighborhood. This exchange helps the community understand and respect the Weidenhof residents as well as contributes to the confidence of the individuals with autism in their work.