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UAlbany Expands Child Autism Program To 50 School Districts in Six Counties
Center for Autism offers pioneering approach to serve needs of children

Contact: Michael Parker (518) 437-4980

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 25, 2004) -- The Regional Center for Autism pilot program, a pioneering approach to serve the needs of children with autism, their parents and school professionals, expanded this fall from three to six counties and from 30 to 50 school districts. Developed and run by the UAlbany's Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) and championed by Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and State Senators Hugh Farley and Elizabeth Little, the program grew to include school districts in Fulton, Montgomery and Schenectady counties. Originally called the North County Autism and Technical Assistance Center Pilot Program, CARD started with and will continue programs in Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties in addition to the expansion.

"With 50 children per day being diagnosed, autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the US. Although a cure for autism has not been found, early diagnosis and appropriate education and intervention can help students reach their fullest potential," said Kristin V. Christodulu, UAlbany psychologist and director of both the program and the Center. "Autism is a complex disability and educating families, school personnel, and community professionals to better understand this lifelong condition is one of the many services provided by the Regional Center for Autism at UAlbany."

"Many schools do not have the expertise to deal with autistic children," said Senator Bruno. "As a result, schools are faced with either hiring costly consultants or sending children to out-of-district providers, which is extremely expensive." In the program’s first school year, July 1, 2002 to June 30, 2003, 30 school districts in the northern counties reported increased levels of care and assistance to students and teachers, with cost savings of nearly $500,000. In addition, some 529 parents, educators and community professionals participated in Center workshops and seminars. In year two of the project, from July 1, 2003 to Jan. 15, 2004, 358 more participated in this training.

The program, provided at no costs to the school districts themselves, was created at UAlbany in response to a statewide and national plea from districts concerned with the dramatic increase of children diagnosed with autism. The State Education Department places this increase conservatively at more than 175 percent over the past 10 years, while the U.S. Department of Education has estimated the rise to be 435 percent nationwide during that same period.

Last year, Bruno and now-retired State Senator Ronald Stafford spearheaded the first funding for the North County initiative. Little, who succeeded Stafford in the 45th District, enthusiastically supported the program’s continuance. “The response from parents and teachers in Warren, Saratoga and Washington counties has been tremendous,” said Senator Little. "The autism pilot program has provided a state-of-the art, regional resource for school districts in terms of service, expertise and training for teachers, parents and paraprofessionals alike. And, in doing so, has provided financial relief to the school districts."

"The success of the North Country program did not go unnoticed in my district," said Senator Farley. "There was a tremendous demand in these counties for its services, and the University at Albany has nationally-acclaimed expertise and resources from which school districts can benefit."

The program also has received broad support statewide from both governmental agencies and major professional educational associations. Such support will be critical in eventually expanding the program into a full regional network of centers throughout the state.

“We believe this new year of funding will fully prove the program’s effectiveness as a regional approach for statewide implementation,” said Christodulu.
Sherrie Moses, director of student support services for the Queensbury School District, lauded the training courses and seminars. In addition, she said, “the pilot program has given providers and families a place to go to for expertise in crisis or even before crises arise. During trying economic times for both districts and families, to have an outreach center with an immediate response in order to improve services for these children is just a phenomenal thing.”

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