Center for Autism at TCNJ opens on campus

Reports earlier this year that the American Psychiatric Association was considering narrowing the definition of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) stirred debate among mental health practitioners, policymakers, and parents of and advocates for children with autism.

The quandary, explained TCNJ’s Richard Blumberg: a more clearly defined spectrum could improve the confidence and accuracy in autism diagnoses, but it could also affect whether an individual qualifies to receive health, educational, and social services.

Blumberg is the director of the new Center for Autism at TCNJ, which was created to provide innovative services and continuing education programs for teachers, counselors, and family members of people with ASD. Blumberg and the center’s assistant director, Jerry Petroff ’75, are both associate professors of special education, language, and literacy at TCNJ. Combined, they have more than 60 years of experience working with individuals with disabilities, particularly those with spectrum disorders, and their families.

Richard Blumberg, PhD

Through the center, Blumberg and Petroff plan to conduct field-based research to evaluate promising practices in academic, career, and social supports for individuals with autism, and to train professionals in the areas of applied behavioral analysis and positive behavioral support. The goal, Blumberg explained, is twofold: train high-quality professionals to work with individuals with autism and their families, and also improve the lives of individuals diagnosed with ASD.

The center’s first event, held this past June, addressed the first part of those goals. A three-day Summer Institute on Autism brought nationally recognized experts to campus where they led workshops on inclusive practices, social skills development, and innovative uses of technology for learners with ASD. Future plans for the center include the creation of a post-graduate certificate-granting program in Applied Behavioral Analysis, said Blumberg.

Jerry G. Petroff ’75, PhD

And there are already plans to host a three-week Transition Academy in 2013. That program will provide extended school-year services and comprehensive transition/vocational assessment to 18- to 21-year-olds with autism to help them maintain academic and functional skills over the summer months, Blumberg said. More information on that program can be found at http://centerforautism.pages.tcnj.edu.

As of now, the center is self-funded through the programs it sponsors and, potentially, through tuition from the proposed post-grad certificate program. But Blumberg said he and Petroff are pursuing grant funding and donations that will allow them to expand the center’s offerings.

“TCNJ has been a leader in special education in the state, and autism is one of the biggest challenges educators face, so it makes sense for us to focus our efforts on the experience of autism,” he added.

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