NEW BRUNSWICK — The newest offering from Rutgers University's Center for Adult Autism Services, a first-of-its-kind, 10,000-square foot Community Center is now operational on the Douglass Campus.

Custom-built and designed with $9.5 million in philanthropic funds, the center currently offers three core programs: SCALE, or Supporting Community Access through Leisure and Employment, a Psychological Services Clinic, and a College Support Program for autistic undergrads.

A fourth program, the Intensive Outpatient Unit for adults actively in behavioral crisis, is set to begin later this year.

Dr. Christopher Manente, RCAAS founding executive director, said Rutgers' commitment to helping those with autism spectrum disorders dates back to its first, university-based school for children with autism, which opened in 1972.

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He said the new building continues the university's tradition of training future practitioners in autism services, and conducting research to find solutions to help those 21 and older with autism succeed at all aspects of adult life.

"Anything that you or I or anyone else in society might consider a part of being a successful adult in the world would be something that we would help autistic adults succeed at," Manente said, specifically mentioning employment, relationships, transportation, financial and residential independence, and physical and psychological health.

The center is meant to accommodate everyone on the spectrum, whether they need intensive support or are largely independent, and cater to their specific learning profiles, turning back the societal notion that those with autism are a burden, or a problem to be solved.

This is especially true, Manente said, with regard to job and higher education interviews, when more often than not, adults with associated disorders can be at a decided disadvantage.

Rutgers' new endeavor is designed to fill a gap for those who may have received specialized care up to early adulthood, but struggled to find it thereafter, something Manente said has really only come to light in data produced over the last decade.

"(There's) just such a huge need for adults after graduation from the school system, for supports across contexts and settings," he said. "Outcomes for adults with autism, in terms of general quality of life throughout the lifespan, are poorer compared to any other category of people with disabilities."

As for the actual physical building, Manente said it is designed to function like an additional student center, and a real-world opportunity to build social skills, rather than working on such attributes in a classroom setting.

"People with autism ... are people, right? So if you design an amazing space for all people, generally speaking, people with autism fall within that category," he said.

For more information, visit rcaas.rutgers.edu, or visit RCAAS' Facebook page.

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