One in 45 children in New Jersey is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Through high school, these kids can get help to accommodate their needs. But once they are adults, services catering to them are scarce.

A new program at the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services aims to help with that.

The idea of the center is to change the lives of all adults with autism —not just a select few who would have the opportunity to attend the center on a day-to-day basis.

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Executive Director Christopher Manente says "even if you never directly attend the center, it's likely you'll attend a program that's benefited by our advocacy, our research or had staff trained by us."

The day program, according to Manente, is designed to support adults with autism through a wide range of services customized to meet their individual needs and unique set of skills.

"That's what will dictate the types of services that we provide and the types of jobs that we ultimately match them with on campus."

So far there is only one program participant, a 23-year-old man from Princeton who joined in February. But Manente says through an admissions application process, four to five additional participants will be chosen to take part in the program by December.

Next year, another handful will move into the program, he says.

The center also expects to cut the ribbon on a new state-of-the-art program facility. They have raised $14 million out of a goal of $20 million needed to break ground on a building for its day program. Once that goal is reached, fundraising will begin for the construction of the on-campus residential building.

To be eligible for the program, Manente says there are three primary criteria: a primary diagnosis of autism; approval to participate in the state Division of Developmental Disability Support Program; and a desire and capacity for community based and campus based employment.

"We are always thinking about how we are going to have a larger impact than just having a cutting-edge, high-quality program for the individuals we serve on a day-to-day basis."

Since their core mission involves training, Manente says he also wants to make sure that those who want a career in the field of adult autism services have experience working with adults on the spectrum at various points.

Other programs have a core mission of service provision — more akin to schools and just providing instructional services, he added.

Historically, there's a greater emphasis placed on services for children with autism because there's a great discrepancy in the amount of funding that's available for kids versus adults, says Manente. He adds there are several great programs for adults with autism in New Jersey, but don't make a dent in the issues facing the larger population of adults with autism, which is tens of thousands in the state.

For more information, visit rcaas.rutgers.edu.

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