Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Classical WMUK 89.9-FM is operating at reduced power. Listeners in parts of the region may not be able to receive the signal. It can still be heard at 102.1-FM HD-2. We apologize for the inconvenience and are working to restore the signal to full power.
A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: They All Grow Up

The sign in
WMUK
/
WMUK
The sign in front of AACORN Farm.

There are many resources and special education classes for children who have autism. But what happens to them when they grow up and graduate? Cindy Semark has written They All Grow Up: Parenting Adult Children With Special Needs to address this issue – and what she did about it. She also writes about the tragic loss of her son, Jeremiah.

A conversation with Cindy Semark

“Jeremiah had autism and intellectual disability,” Semark says. “And then, later in his life, he developed bipolar disorder … but he always kept pushing on and trying his hardest. He was confused by a lot of things in the world because he just didn’t have the understanding. But he still kept trying, and he was very engaging and loved talking to people.”

The front cover of They All Grow Up
Cindy Semark
/
Cindy Semark
The front cover of They All Grow Up

When Jeremiah finished grade school and became an adult in years, Semark quickly realized how limited resources were for adults with various mental illness. For the next 12 years, Semark searched for and then developed those resources. She sought places and ways for Jeremiah to know some measure of independence. Inspired by her son, Semark developed a nonprofit called AACORN—Adult Agricultural Community Options for Residential Needs—in 2011.

“I was familiar with a farm in the Toledo, Ohio, area that was called Bittersweet Farms,” Semark says. “I had visited there, and when Jeremiah could no longer participate in some of the programs in Kalamazoo because he was getting so aggressive, then I turned to this idea of having a farm, and I knew we weren’t going to be moving to Toledo. So I just thought we really need to have this option in the Kalamazoo area. I reached out to some parents through the Autism Society—and that’s how it all started.”

AACORN first opened at Tillers International in Scotts, Michigan, with five adults. Participants cared for farm animals, enjoyed arts and crafts and other outdoor activities. In 2014, AACORN rented indoor space and expanded to include various classes such as culinary activities, sewing, making soap, and others. In 2018, AACORN expanded again by purchasing a 40-acre farm.

Jeremiah participated, too, but a tragic event would end his life far too soon. After a choking incident, he was taken to a hospital where he had to have a feeding tube and ventilation.

“That was a very dark time,” Semark says. “We started out with quite a bit of hope, but my family’s experience was that we weren’t often listened to. We were trying to interpret things that Jeremiah said. He couldn’t talk very loud. Even when he could talk, he couldn’t use expressive language to describe his condition.”

Unable to communicate or understand his health care needs, Jeremiah passed away in April 2022. A burr oak tree has been planted in his memory at AACORN as Semark continues to carry the message of the needs of adults with developmental disabilities, including for the unique needs of patients who are not neurotypical.

To learn more about AACORN, visit https://aacorncommunity.org/ .

Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.
Related Content