STAATSBURG — Executives from Anderson Center for Autism and SUNY Empire State College announced that Anderson has launched plans for a comprehensive training and consultation program that will lead to SUNY Empire’s designation as a first-of-its-kind Autism Supportive College. The initiative, which will take several months to complete, will include Anderson’s facilitation of group training programs for SUNY Empire State College faculty and staff, as well as general consulting for the purposes of organizational development. The goal is to ensure that SUNY Empire State College employees have the breadth and depth of knowledge needed to implement all possible measures that can promote success for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The news comes on the heels of another collaboration between Anderson and SUNY Empire, which resulted in the planning, development, and official opening of SUNY Empire State College’s Center for Autism Inclusivity. While the immediate objectives of that initial cooperative effort between Anderson and SUNY Empire were to expand professional opportunities for those entering the field of autism, develop academic, certification, and licensure programs that could help meet growing workforce needs, and establish a Center for Excellence in Autism Education, the latest news from Anderson and SUNY Empire is focused on ensuring that the college is equipped to better accommodate the needs of students with autism.

Said Patrick Paul, CEO and Executive Director at Anderson Center for Autism and graduate of SUNY Empire State College, “According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 54 people are now diagnosed with Autism. With the exponential growth in incidence rates over the past few decades, I think it’s become increasingly clear that all sectors must find ways to become more inclusive. For colleges and universities like SUNY Empire State College, the opportunity is three-fold - they can provide the kind of educational path that can help build out our workforce in this space, ensure that teachers, staff, and peer groups understand how to be as supportive as possible to students with autism, and pursue research that will help inform and inspire other individuals, communities, and organizations going forward. SUNY Empire has long had a stellar reputation of providing a top-notch education, particularly to their students with special needs - so it comes as no surprise that they are leading the way in higher ed when it comes to doing what they need to do to become autism-supportive on every level. Anderson Consulting is thrilled to be working with the visionary team at SUNY Empire; we hope that this initiative will prompt other colleges to follow suit.”

Said Kathleen Marshall, Director of Program Services at Anderson Center for Autism: “We are all so happy to see that the leadership of Empire State College is embracing the opportunity to provide an even more inclusive educational experience for people with Autism. And we’re in awe of the investment SUNY Empire is making into this effort - a direct expenditure of about $30,000 over the next two years. In addition to providing training to their employees, our team at Anderson will be consulting with them on how to make their operations more autism-friendly. For example, their website is currently a bit complicated visually, and we feel that perhaps they’re losing prospective students who have neuro diversities - whether it’s autism or something else - because of the complex nature of how the website looks right now. We collected baseline data by asking people with Autism who are able to read and navigate a website to review it and help us assess what their experience is on the website with respect to admission information and completing an application for admission because the website is the first point of contact. So that’s a key starting point - we’ll make recommendations to the college about how to improve the user experience for people with Autism. And that’s just one example. We’ll be training teams that directly interact with students - Admissions, Mentor Services, Student Services, Student Academic Services, Student Accounts, Financial Aid, and the Registar/Bursar’s offices. We hope to help them at each point of contact with the student, to ensure that the students with Autism and other disabilities can easily understand what the expectations are of them and how to navigate any forms, paperwork, and website functions more efficiently and without frustration. Ultimately, the more inclusive SUNY Empire State can become, the better chances students with neuro diversity will have at success throughout college and beyond.”

Marshall noted that many colleges currently have offices for accommodations or specific learning support programs that have been helpful to this population, but this will be the first time Anderson Center for Autism designates a school an Autism Supportive College, which will occur once the training and consultation programs are complete.

She added, “In addition to offering organizational consulting as noted, Anderson will also deliver training specifically for faculty. The point is not only to talk about autism - since they’re faculty members with education and training, they probably have a good understanding of autism - but we want to make a connection between Autism and what we know are difficulties with executive functioning, and how that can impact the student’s ability to be successful in a class. We’re basically helping to connect the dots for people so that they can make very simple changes - like organizing their course outlines in a more direct manner. Less is more. We also want to foster awareness that people with autism may not really want to be in a group project - to help faculty be sensitive to that and give options on offering individualized assignments for those who don’t function at their best in a group setting.”

According to the leadership team at SUNY Empire State, the collaboration between Anderson Center for Autism and the higher ed institution is a natural fit.

SUNY Empire State College officer in charge, Nathan Gonyea, PhD, reflected: “We developed SUNY Empire State College to help educate the many who weren’t well-served by the traditional models of higher ed, so this effort to become autism-supportive is really the next logical step for us. Serving individuals with Autism has long been a cornerstone of our work here, especially since our online program offers those students with a wonderful educational opportunity that is ideal for many of them. By gaining the tools and strategies from Anderson’s training program, we will build upon this work, and expect that it will open us up to highly capable, highly motivated people who deserve access to the same educational opportunities as everyone else. Since launching the Center for Autism Inclusivity with Anderson, we’ve already been getting an overwhelming number of calls from people who have special needs and want a high-quality, affordable education. This is all part of what we should do to serve New York State and all of the communities within the state.”

Gonyea continued, “Having the chance to develop this effort with the guidance and cooperation of Anderson Center for Autism makes it the right time for us. Patrick Paul, Anderson’s CEO, is not only an alum of SUNY Empire State College, but he and his team are so passionate about serving people with Autism and they do it so well. By working with them, we have the opportunity to do it well too - we get to work with a world-class center to develop our resources to serve students with Autism - and we also take it to the next level, by training professionals who are ready for advancement and can help ensure that workforce needs are met. Our low tuition cost and the convenience of online coursework position us to serve people who may not otherwise have a real opportunity to pursue higher education.”

Gonyea and Paul both noted that people with Autism, as well as professionals and employers - statewide, nationally, and across the globe - will benefit from this program. Said Gonyea, “We can use our statewide footprint to do some really good work, and keep it growing so that we become a resource for people from other parts of the country and the world. As long as you have an internet signal, you can access our programs, so we’re poised to deliver what we’ve learned to anyone who wants to enrich life for people with Autism.”

Anderson Center for Autism’s Consulting team will roll out the training for SUNY Empire State College in 2021.

Anderson Center for Autism and SUNY Empire are also developing a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program that will prepare graduates to become NYS licensed behavior analysts and board-certified behavior analysts. This program is currently under SUNY and New York State Education Department (NYSED) review. Pending SUNY and NYSED approval, the anticipated launch date is September 2021.

For more information on Anderson’s Consulting services, contact: Lisa Susczynski, Consultation Administrator, at: LSusczynski@AndersonCares.org or by calling 845-889-9616.

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