For April’s Autism Acceptance Month, Drexel News Blog is highlighting experts and projects from Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. Research from the Autism Institute is built around a public health science approach to understanding and addressing the challenges of autism spectrum disorders by discovering, developing and sharing population-level and community-based outcomes.
According to the Pennsylvania Autism Census (first authored by the Autism Institute’s Lindsay Shea), there were 4,167 autistic individuals receiving services in Philadelphia in 2014. That number is an underestimate of the number of autistic Philadelphia residents, since it only captures individuals who were receiving services. In acknowledgement that more resources and programs were needed, and remain needed today, the Philadelphia Autism Project, located at the Policy and Analytics Center in the Autism Institute, was created.
“We support autistic individuals and their families living in Philadelphia through education (training and eLearning Courses), connections (resources, calendar of events, and fostering community collaborations) and innovative projects (seed award funding, annual conference and new programs for autistic individuals and family members),” said Mi-Yeet Wong, assistant director of Community Impact at the Policy and Analytics Center at the Autism Institute.
The Philadelphia Autism Project, the first citywide initiative of its kind, is sponsored through the Office of Councilmember-at-Large Derek S. Green and implemented in partnership with Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) and Community Behavioral Health (CBH). The Philadelphia Autism Project was catalyzed through the advocacy efforts of former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House and Councilmember-at-Large Dennis M. O’Brien and works in tandem with the statewide Autism Services, Education, Resources and Training (ASERT) Collaborative Eastern Region.
As the Assistant Director of Community Impact, Wong develops innovative projects to address gaps or needs and integrates feedback and input from the very people who would be impacted by those programs, the community and other stakeholders.
“It’s a unique role in that I get to hear varying perspectives from systems, communities, family members, autistic individuals and providers, as well as learning more about new programs and initiatives,” said Wong.
Wong shared more about the feedback she receives.
“Across many of our projects, we hear from people about its impact. For example, participants in the Community Autism Peer Specialist (CAPS) Training Program have shared how impactful the training has been in their employment opportunities,” said Wong. “People connecting with the CAPS have shared how helpful it has been to be able to connect with someone who is familiar with what they’re going through.”
In addition to actively recruiting for the CAPS Training Program, Philadelphia Autism Project has recently restarted the Cooking with Confidence program – where participants learn basic cooking skills in hands-on classes; finished a video series about inclusive programming and spaces to support Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation staff, and launched the online A-List, a resource for both autism and non-autism related information in Philadelphia.
Other highlights from the Philadelphia Autism Project include its seed award recipients being able to use funding to develop programs, which directly provides opportunities for participation and connection with others. Additionally, last year the Eagles Autism Foundation funded the “Life on the Spectrum” virtual workshop series, with content led by and created specifically for autistic individuals. Because it was virtual, the Philadelphia Autism Project was able to reach people outside of Philadelphia, who shared that it was helpful to be able to access related information and learn about different perspectives from the series because of limited resources in their area.
The Philadelphia Autism Project has a full schedule of events for April.
While Wong believes Autism Acceptance Month can spark an interest or idea in people that they can build on, she spoke about the need for continued emphasis on the work of initiatives like the Philadelphia Autism Project.
“Autism Acceptance Month is important to highlight autistic voices and their family/caregivers, but I really think it should be an effort year-round,” said Wong. “There’s a shift in how we think about supporting not only autistic individuals and their families but changing the larger environment to be more inclusive. So, I think we all have a lot of work to do, and if we look at our roles and try to identify areas where we can make a dent, this is something that can be done year-round, not just one month out of the year.”
Media interested in speaking with Wong should contact Annie Korp, news manager, at 215-571-4244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.