It is the mission of the Autism Institute of Gwynedd Mercy University to support scientifically research-based best practices for individuals with autism. The Institute strives to identify needs, seek appropriate funding and structure, and provide services which utilize the University's resources to contribute to the development and educational progress of persons on the autism spectrum.
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For more information about programs offered by the Autism Institute, please contact: Dr. Deborah Schadler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-646-7300 ext. 160.
For more information regarding ways in which you can support the programming efforts of the Autism Institute, please contact the Office of Institutional Advancement at 215-641-5550.
About the Autism Institute
Deborah Schadler, PhD, director
Gwynedd Mercy University's Autism Institute was founded by Dr. Deborah Schadler, assistant professor and coordinator of undergraduate special education. She uses her more than 35 years of experience working with special needs children to develop the most scientifically-researched experiences available in the area.
Establishing the Autism Institute
There are more than one million children on the autism spectrum in America – an epidemic that brings countless concerns and issues for the parents and educators who care for the fastest-growing population of special needs children. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD), cover five disorders – autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Rett’s Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified). Gwynedd Mercy University saw a need to address this issue by educating our aspiring teachers and community members, thus becoming the driving force behind the creation of the Autism Institute.
The Institute’s hands-on workshops, professional development activities, on-site service programs and educational presentations at area conferences all provide research-based best practices for students majoring in special education, teachers and administrators, parents of children on the autism spectrum and any interested community members. All offerings carry Act 48 continuing education hours conducted under the authority of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Hundreds of certified teachers in Pennsylvania have received their hours through our program. All programs emphasize the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of children showing symptoms of ASD and focus primarily on the preschool level, a critical time for a child’s development. With a combination of treatment plans, children with ASD can dramatically reduce their symptoms, especially if treatment is started very early in life, as the Institute strongly supports.
The Autism Institute received a grant from the Child Development Foundation of Montgomery County in January 2008. This grant spearheaded the Institute and, as a result, the SPECTRUM (Supporting Successful Practices in Early Childhood – Connection, Training, Resources – A Unified Mission) Project was formed. SPECTRUM focuses on supporting Montgomery County preschools in identifying and responding appropriately to behaviors of students on the autism spectrum.
Dr. Joseph DiMino, director of health at the Montgomery County Health Department and a member of Gwynedd Mercy University’s President’s Council , notes that the formation of the Autism Institute is so important because autism occurs nationally in one out of every 150 births “so we need to find out why,” he says. “Basically the biggest contributions the Autism Institute can bring are public awareness, parent information and resources, and the education of people."
Joanne Bryers, president of the Child Development Foundation of Montgomery County and also a member of Gwynedd Mercy University’s President’s Council, recognizes the impact the Autism Institute is making for so many people.
“When Gwynedd Mercy University first approached the (Child Development Foundation) Board of Directors with its plans for an autistic program, we knew it would be a perfect fit with our mission. The Board of the Child Development Foundation is so excited to be a part of this groundbreaking effort to work together with Gwynedd Mercy University in delivering the education and assistance necessary to make the lives of those dealing with this difficult challenge a bit less complicated,” Bryers says.
The Montgomery County location, with nearly 1,000 children on the autism spectrum, and the timing of the formation of the Autism Institute couldn't be better, Bryers explains.
“In today’s society, there is even more need for the help we provide because of the scientific progress being made in recognizing and diagnosing abnormalities that cause so many challenges and so much heartache in the lives of the children we serve,” Bryers says.