One in 94 children in New Jersey is diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – the national average is 1 in 110. As alarming as these figures may be to young and expecting parents, there is evidence intervention can be highly effective in treating children on the autism spectrum.
Studies show at least half of children who receive quality ABA services in preschool will lose their diagnosis of autism. Enter ’s Center for Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis, a state-of-the-art facility located on the Caldwell campus which opened earlier this year.
A ribbon-cutting was held at the center on Friday, April 15, midway through a month which is dedicated to Autism Awareness. Approximately 80 guests, including community leaders, alumni, faculty, staff, supporters and the center’s first student – 4-year-old Rowan – gathered to tour the 6,000-square-foot facility Friday.
Here, undergraduate and graduate students, supervised by trained faculty, are learning how to provide effective intervention services to children on the autism spectrum. The center includes intervention rooms, a research lab, faculty offices and a videoconferencing classroom which allows the center to provide and receive academic instruction from anywhere in the world.
Dr. Sharon Reeve, the center’s executive director, said because there is no “handbook” for treating children with autism, faculty and students at the center work together to customize programs.
“It results in really nice skills acquisition,” said Reeve about the personal attention given to each child.
The goal for Rowan, the center’s first student, for example, was to help her acquire language. Reeve said Rowan did not speak when she started at the center and in the last few weeks has said several words, including up, go, open, ball and help.
In addition to serving as a supplement to a child’s current program and as a temporary placement for young children, the center has a community integration program. Individuals with autism are taught basic life skills, such as attending a religious service, tolerating medical exams and haircuts and purchasing items in a store.
Caldwell College has been a national leader in autism research and ABA training. The college offered the first master’s in ABA in New Jersey in 2005. It followed with the first Ph.D. program in ABA in New Jersey in the fall of 2009. Twelve studies out of the center have been published in the last year alone.
“The impact that this center will have in the community is monumental,” said Caldwell College President Nancy Blattner in her address to guests on Friday. “It is a hallmark of excellence both at our college and in our community.”
The center was equipped and outfitted with funds from a federal grant thanks to U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez and Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.” Major support came from alumni and community organizations, including the Rotary Club of the Caldwells and the Kiwanis Club of Caldwell-West Essex, as well as private donations and fundraisers.
Looking forward, a donor has pledged the funds to construct parking spaces for parents bringing children to the center. Wish list projects include a playground, a garden and a security system.