From mountains to beach: Educator makes cross-state ride for autism awareness

Published 12:09 pm Saturday, April 4, 2015

April 2 was autism awareness day. This week is autism awareness week. But for Dr. Jim Taylor, recognizing the occasion isn’t enough — it requires action. Starting today, Taylor and his friends Brad and Robin Hardie will cycle across the state to share a message of awareness.

The trip began this morning in Beech Mountain, the town with highest elevation east of the Mississippi, and will end in 13 days at the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, via Ocracoke and many other towns along the way, among them Washington, Belhaven and Swan Quarter. For Taylor, the three will be riding some familiar roads: he taught at East Carolina University for many years and lived in Chocowinity, part of that time aboard a boat. Across the state, people have reached out to facilitate the ride: lodging has been offered up and chambers of commerce have stepped in to provide meals for the travelers.

There’s an understanding that the issue is an important one, with one in 56 children in North Carolina diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is usually identified within the first two years of a child’s life and is manifested in a broad range of symptoms and levels of disability, deficits in communication and social interaction primary among them. Scientists have not determined the cause, but with the rising number of children being diagnosed, those who work with children with ASD know there’s a growing concern that will need to be addressed.

Taylor has taught children with disabilities for 50 years; was at the forefront of the movement to establish group homes in the 1960s and in the 1970s was instrumental in legislation that expanded Housing and Urban Development to encompass housing for the disabled. According to Taylor, in the next 15 years, over 500,000 children with ASD will make the transition to adulthood — many of whom will be unable to live on their own, but do not need to be in an institutional environment.

“(The ride) is to raise awareness of what we’re going to have to do with our blossoming population,” Taylor said. “Many with autism have certain characteristics and cannot be assimilated into society. They need a place where they can fit in. … We need to help our adults have meaningful lives with purpose.”

Taylor has a plan: it’s called LIFE Village, LIFE, an acronym for “Living Innovations for Exceptional”. He’s once more at the forefront of the issue, working to create a living environment for ASD adults. He envisions a different kind of group home, one that’s sustainable, gives ASD adults the opportunity to interact with nature, to perhaps raise chickens and livestock, and at the same time being teaching grounds for university programs. LIFE Village would be loosely based on Camp Cogger, the camp Taylor established in Deep Gap to give not just ASD children, but their parents the chance to interact with nature.

“It’s been really successful,” Taylor said. “(Parents) get to see what happens to the child when he’s free in nature.”

Taylor said he’s hoping to have the first installation of LIFE Village built in three to five years, and that it will become a model for all future housing for autistic adults.

“I truly believe this one of those directional things that the Lord has told me to get going with,” he said.

Right now, LIFE Village is starting with the ride to the beach and a GoFundMe crowd-funding account, Cycling4Life. Taylor will be arriving in Washington on April 13 and in Belhaven on April 14.

To donate to LIFE Village, visit and search for Cycling4Life or send donations directly to 1255 Wildcat Road, Deep Gap, NC 28618.