Island Autism Center to help fill a void 

Construction of the Island Autism Center is expected to be fully complete by 2025.


The creation of a new center to help fill a pressing gap in service for Islanders with autism is plowing ahead in West Tisbury. 

The Island Autism Center is under development by the Island Autism Group, a nonprofit organization serving autistic individuals and their families on the Island. 

“Predominantly, the people we serve are people who were born on Martha’s Vineyard, grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, and would like to live here for the rest of their lives,” Island Autism Group co-founder and executive director Kate DeVane said during a recent visit to the planned facility. 

The project is planned to consist of a hub house, two shared four-bedroom houses for those who need 24/7 care, three two-bedroom cottages, a barn, and a farmstand. 

Other than individuals with autism, the campus will also have an apartment for a caretaker/farmer, alongside rooms for guests. 

The center will also have space for community events, such as pizza nights or guest speakers. 

Currently, the first phase of the project is underway, and could wrap up by early next year. The full project is still a couple of years away. “In an ideal world, we would get all of the construction done by late 2025,” DeVane said.

According to DeVane, the center would help fill missing links on the Island. She says that children who are at a certain level of disability can remain in the school system until they reach 22. 

The final educational program provided by the schools on the Island is called the Voyagers program, which trains young adults with special needs between the ages of 18 and 22 on how to live independently. But after that, there’s a void in services.

“On their 22nd birthday, no matter when it is, what time of the year it is … they are done with the school system, and they become an adult in the eyes of the Department of Developmental Services,” DeVane said. “Everything that was a right under law when they were in school becomes an accommodation that’s … less certain.”

Additionally, the group’s co-founder says that afterschool and summer programming for individuals with autism and other forms of intellectual disabilities is lacking on the Vineyard, compared with metropolitan areas like Boston, where hospitals or other organizations help develop spaces. DeVane said the larger population in cities brings a bigger demand.

DeVane said the center will meet the needs of individuals with autism wherever they are in life, from school-age children to adults. 

According to DeVane, there are around 60 school-age children with autism on the Island, and upwards of 200 individuals with autism or autism-related disorders.

A variety of resources are planned to be available for those participating in the center, such as access to a job coach and various parts of the campus hub for work experience. That could be organizing mail, kitchen work, and agricultural tasks. Although the center itself isn’t open yet, the center’s farm is already producing eggs, vegetables, and cut flowers that the Island Autism Group sells at the West Tisbury Farmers Market. 

DeVane said the idea is that after someone works at the center for a year or two, they can take what they learned to a local employer, such as farm work at Island Grown Initiative, or cutting flowers at Donaroma’s. 

“The idea is not that people would necessarily stay here forever, but we would sort of ripple them out into the community depending on what their skills were,” she said. 

The center — aside from providing housing — is also intended to supply a support network for families, and job training. 

“Not everyone who’s a part of Island Autism or has a membership will live here, by any means,” DeVane said. “Really, the people who will live in the housing will be those with the most intense needs.” 

Island Autism also plans to host a camp and an afterschool program to let participants “discover the things [they] like to do” that could potentially lead to employment, DeVane said. 

While construction is well underway, DeVane says they are still raising money for the center. They recently acquired a $10,000 grant from the Teamsters Local 25 Autism Fund. The West Chop Community Foundation also provided funding for the farmstand and fencing. But they’re looking for individual donations and pledges.

“We are in a huge fundraising phase,” DeVane said. 

Gathering funds for the project met some snags along the way. DeVane said the project began in 2020, and was hit by challenges like the COVID pandemic and the supply chain disruption. 

“What was originally going to cost about a million dollars is now costing $3 million to build [phase one],” she said. According to DeVane, adding up everything related to the project would come out to around $10 million in total. 

However, DeVane said volunteers and the support of neighbors helped with the process. 

Although the center will largely support those with autism and their families, DeVane said she thinks it’ll be a benefit for the whole Vineyard. She recalled the beloved Chilmark Chocolates store that closed in 2019, which was known for hiring employees with disabilities.

“When I first started coming here, I got to know the women who ran Chilmark Chocolates for years,” she said. “That is just such a wonderful thing. It was something that was embraced by the entire community, and it was also completely inclusive, everybody working side by side doing a job together. That’s, I hope, what we’re going to be doing here.”


  1. Hoorah for Kate, her dream is coming to fruition..!
    Everyone might consider even small donations of under $100.00 to help in such a worthy cause.

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