July 20, 2019 | 78° F

New center will help adults with autism

Stanley Messer, GSAPP Dean

One in 45 children in New Jersey are born with autism, according to the State Department of Human Services. While many services exist to help children and students who have trouble with everyday life, fewer are aimed toward adults unable to cope.

The new Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services (RCAAS) will be one of the first in the nation to train undergraduate and graduate students to work alongside adults diagnosed with autism, said Stanley Messler, dean of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP).

“This is a great need, and we can’t fill the need (by ourselves), but we can ... serve as a model for other such centers,” he said. “We’re going to be a pioneer on this, there really isn’t anything like it.”

Through the Douglass Development Center’s (DDC) Adult Program, a number of graduate students work alongside adults diagnosed with autism, despite minors being the main focus of the DDC.

Both the adult and the children’s programs are part of the GSAPP, said Mary Chrow, the associate dean for development at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology.

“We have a small program (and) a day program for adults,” she said. “It's pretty limited because it's (mostly) a (kindergarten to grade 12) program.”

This program has fewer than 20 participants, she said. The new residential part of the center is expected to house another 20 adults on the autism spectrum, in addition to 20 graduate students who will live alongside the program members.

The day program building will accommodate up to 60 people, she said.

The new buildings will be independent of the Douglass Development Center, which houses the current program, she said.

“(They are both) under the general aegis of (the GSAPP),” Messler said.

The GSAPP is different from the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences, he said. While the former aims to train students in working within the field, the latter is more academically focused.

RCAAS will likewise focus on helping undergraduate students gain experience working with adults on the autism spectrum rather than professionals or graduate students, he said.

The new center will be led by the Karmazin and Lillard Chair in Adult Autism Services, Messler said. This new endowed faculty position is one of 18 new chairs the University is forming after receiving a significant anonymous donation.

The title comes from Dina Karmazin and Michael and Amy Lillard, who have contributed roughly $1.5 million toward the center together, he said. This matched another $1.5 million donated by an anonymous benefactor.

They plan to fill the position during the upcoming summer, he said. The chair’s duties will include teaching classes to students and connecting RCAAS to the rest of the University while also continuing their own research on autism in adults.

Before that happens, an executive director will be hired.

“(That is) the first thing that will happen, we hope this coming winter,” he said.

GSAPP has raised about $10 million toward the new center, he said. This makes up about half of what they need before they can break ground on either of the buildings.

A lot of this money comes from private fundraising, Chrow said.

“We’re talking to all sorts of individuals and foundations,” she said.

Neither building is expected to be completed before late 2018, she said. It is more likely that the two buildings will not be completed until early 2019.

The services RCAAS will offer should help adults in ways institutions do not presently, said Mel Karmazin, the former chief executive officer of Viacom. 

“The Rutgers center will offer adults with autism a one-of-a-kind support program that makes independent living and a fulfilling life possible," he said in a MyCentralJersey.com article

Members of the program will learn new skills to better navigate their lives than if the program did not exist, he said. 

“We’re hoping that other universities in the state and the country will take a look at the model and programming and replicate the model in other places to expand training for students and provide services to the adult community,” Chrow said. “This is a community that is underserved.”

Nikhilesh De

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