SUNY Old Westbury autism center aims to help parents, educators

SUNY Old Westbury

SUNY Old Westbury

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A center on autism spectrum disorders designed to be a public resource for families and to train Long Island educators has opened at the College at Old Westbury.

Part of the SUNY college's School of Education, the Regional Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders will provide free consultations to individuals and their families, and will host workshops and other educational programs for teachers and school administrators, director Sanja Cale said.

"There aren't enough free programs available to families, so I'm really hoping to reach those who are underserved and those who educate them to bring research-based interventions to families," Cale said.

The center, in the college's New Academic Building, is one of six in a network at colleges and universities across the state. It was established with a $40,000 grant for the first year. Cale said the college hopes to get twice as much funding next year.

The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University at Albany is the flagship site and disseminates state Education Department funding to the other regional centers.

The Old Westbury center set up an advisory board representing various stakeholders, including local school district administrators, parents and teachers. Two of the 10 board members have an autism disorder, Cale said.

Other regional centers are at the University of Rochester, University at Buffalo, New York Medical College / Westchester Institute for Human Development and Queens College.

Cale said she wasn't sure how many individuals and families the center would serve on Long Island, but that she would be keeping track this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder, which affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills.

"This center enables us to work alongside our Long Island neighbors and educators so that individuals with autism spectrum disorders can achieve their highest potential and live lives of promise and purpose," said the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, president of the College at Old Westbury.

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