One in 68 children nationally, and one in 45 children in New Jersey, are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which is one of the fastest-growing developmental disabilities in America, according to the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services (RCAAS).
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) requires children up the age of 21 be given the resources for educational growth through special curricula, teaching aids and home instruction programs.
But once they leave the public school system, there are few resources that have expert support for adults with ASD to be successful in jobs and other aspects of their lives, according to the RCAAS brochure.
The intends to demonstrate how universities can provide a model that integrates academic research, student training and comprehensive community inclusion of adults with ASD.
“Autism is not so much an educational issue as it is an acceptability issue. Taking services away from individuals after the age of 21 is akin to taking away the wheelchair from a paraplegic just because they turn 21,” said Christopher Manente, executive director of RCAAS.
Since there are no centers established for adults, Manente said the initiative was special.
“It is unfortunate that people shy away from giving (individuals with ASD) opportunities to grow and lead a normal life. This is precisely why I’m proud to be at a school that is leading to bring about a social change," said School of Arts and Sciences junior Ateet Chopra.
The center will provide customized vocational and residential services for adults with ASD, situated within integrated-community settings, while equipping Rutgers students with the clinical and professional expertise to support this underserved population, according to the RCAAS brochure.
Additionally, the center will serve as a hub for Rutgers’ interdisciplinary research collaborations on adult autism studies, yielding the translational research outcomes needed to inform public policy and best practices in meeting the needs of adults with ASD.
“We will build a new 12,500 square-feet, state-of-the-art facility at Douglass campus,” Manente said.
RCAAS will focus on two main programs: a Workday Program that will provide between 50 to 60 adults with vocational and recreational opportunities and a Pilot Residential Program that will provide residence to 20 adults with autism.
Manente explained that at the Workday Program, adults will be paired with direct care clinical staff members in a ratio of 2:1. There will also be 10 faculty members conducting research and publishing their findings to the global population. The Residential Program will be accelerated in Phase II of the center’s growth and will house 20 graduate students along with 20 adults with autism.
“We are really looking to change the world for all adults with autism,” he said.
RCAAS also works with undergraduates and graduates for internship opportunities and practical training.
“These students will receive world class training in what it takes to support adults with autism. They can go into the world and get jobs in other agencies where they can boost quality,” Manente said.
Chopra said he agrees with Manente’s point of view.
“It is one thing to read about it in textbooks, but it’s another thing to live it. The fact that I can get a chance to bring about a positive change in the lives (of adults with autism) already excites me,” he said.
The RCAAS receives funds from New Jersey’s Division of Developmental Disabilities, Manente said.
“We are also soliciting funds from corporates, individual donors and state and federal research grants,” he said.
Although RCAAS is still developing, Manente said they were looking for people to help support their mission.
“This program has a global reach,” he said.
Chopra believes the center will help students receive insight into the lives of people suffering from ASD.
“It is amazing to see Rutgers make the right strides,” he said.
Ria Rungta is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in genetics and minoring in psychology. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. You can find her on Twitter @riarungta.