August 6, 2020

SUNY Empire Launches Groundbreaking Program to Expand College Access by Becoming an Autism-Supportive College, Meeting Growing Demand for Professionals to Serve Individuals with Autism

New Center for Autism Inclusivity Will Train SUNY Empire Faculty and Staff to Better Educate Students with Autism, Building on SUNY Empire’s Successful Individualized Study Model

New Degree Programs and Transfer Credit for Professional Certifications Will Help Meet Growing Demand for Professionals Serving those with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Dr. Noor Syed named Center for Autism Inclusivity’s First Director

SUNY Empire Will Be First College in Nation to Offer Comprehensive Autism Supports in Fully Online Programs to Support Individualized In-Person Education

Malatras Center for Autism Inclusivity.jpg

(SARATOGA SPRINGS, NEW YORK – August 6, 2020) SUNY Empire State College launched the statewide Center for Autism Inclusivity to make SUNY Empire a fully autism-supportive college and meet the growing demand for professionals working with children and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The announcement was made at SUNY Empire's Saratoga Springs campus during a socially-distanced press conference, which can be viewed in its entirety here. Pictures from the event are also available.

Despite the growing number of students with autism who seek a college degree, there is a scarcity of higher education programs to fully support students with ASD. SUNY Empire’s new Center for Autism Inclusivity, in partnership with Anderson Center for Autism, will also educate SUNY Empire faculty and staff on autism and how to meet the needs of students with autism in face-to-face and online environments. The new training coupled with SUNY Empire’s nation-leading individualized education model will greatly expand educational opportunity for individuals with ASD.

The Center for Autism Inclusivity will also work with high schools throughout New York state to identify qualified students with ASD to enroll at SUNY Empire, as the college is expanding its offerings and services to meet the needs of these students. In addition to providing personalized, one-on-one in-person instruction under the new program, there is currently no college that offers additional support for students with autism in fully online programs.

The SUNY Empire Center for Autism Inclusivity will partner with Anderson Center to develop new degree programs, such as a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis, that prepare the workforce to address educational, emotional, and social needs of those with autism. Working with SUNY Empire's Center for Leadership in Credentialing Learning, the center will award college credits for professional certifications, allowing autism professionals to save time and money toward an associate or bachelor’s degree at SUNY Empire. Through the partnership with SUNY Empire, Anderson employees can earn up to 13 credits, equivalent to a full semester of study.

To promote autism inclusivity more broadly, the center will collaborate with partners across the state to provide parents, teachers, employers, and service providers the most up-to-date information about autism spectrum disorders.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network reported 1 in 54 children is identified with a spectrum disorder by the age of 8 years old. ASD is a developmental disability characterized by persistent impairments in social interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities.

Noor Syed will serve as director of the Center for Autism Inclusivity. Syed earned her Ph.D., M.Phil, and M.S. degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a B.A. in psychology applied behavior analysis from Binghamton University. She is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst – Doctoral and a Licensed Behavior Analyst/Specialist in New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Syed currently serves as a verified course sequence coordinator for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Prior to joining SUNY Empire, Syed was a professor of practice and the clinical director of Lehigh University Autism Services and the director of international partnerships for the Global Autism Project. Before joining academia, Syed worked in a variety of professional settings as an applied behavior analyst and special education teacher.

“SUNY Empire’s mission calls for dramatically expanding access to higher education and today’s announcement continues that important commitment,” said SUNY Empire State College President Jim Malatras. “Our faculty will adopt new methods and adjust teaching styles to ensure incoming students with autism spectrum disorders are given every advantage, and feel comfortable and confident in the college environment in order to graduate and achieve future success. The pandemic has heightened awareness and increased conversations about ways in which educators can better serve all students, to find new paths to create equitable opportunities for all students. The Center for Autism Inclusivity at SUNY Empire will do just that.”

“As a society, we have an obligation to never stop fighting to create a more fair and equal society that values the contributions of all people, including those with different and special abilities,” said Representative Joe Morelle. “I applaud SUNY Empire and the Anderson Center for Autism for their work to create a more accessible future for students, caretakers, and families across New York state – ultimately giving them the greatest chance to overcome the challenges they face and utilize the unique and special talents they possess.”

“Collaborations such as the one we are embarking on with SUNY Empire State College are going to play an instrumental role in the future of service development and delivery for individuals with autism,” said Patrick Paul, chief executive officer of Anderson Center for Autism, and an alumnus of SUNY Empire State College. “I am excited about the opportunities that this, and future collaborations will provide for individuals and families who have historically been underserved. Anderson Center for Autism is happy to share our focus and expertise in the field of autism with SUNY Empire State College, a leader in the field of academia and personalized, accessible learning.”

“The Center for Autism Inclusivity at SUNY Empire will fill a gap that currently exists in research, education and information when it comes to supporting people with autism,” said New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Theodore A. Kastner. “By providing degrees and certificates that will prepare graduates to work in fields that support people with autism and other developmental disabilities, providing an accessible higher education to young people on the autism spectrum and informing the general public through research and information, the center is paving the path to a future that is inclusive, supportive and accepting.”

“As the grandfather of two wonderful children with autism, I am grateful to SUNY Empire and look forward to collaborating and offering help where I can,” said Senator Roy McDonald. “More services are needed for the increasing number of young children being diagnosed, and their families. The more knowledge we have and can share, the better off everyone is. We need to do more to learn about and understand their needs, and I hope we have the capacity to turn this into a real successful program. It’s fun to be part of a team that’s helping people.”

“I’m pleased to be among the first to congratulate SUNY Empire State College on the launch of their Center for Autism Inclusivity,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, chair of the New York State Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Autism Spectrum Disorders. “It exciting to know this new partnership will be focused on the growing need for professionals working with children and adults with autism spectrum disorders,” said Assemblyman Santabarbara, who’s teenage son, Michael, was born with autism. “This collaboration is a great step forward towards advancing academic programs that prepare the workforce to address educational, emotional, and social needs of those living with autism and I’m confident it will help make life-changing advances and lead to better outcomes.”

“One of the greatest challenges adults on the autism spectrum face is finding and maintaining meaningful employment,” said Dania Jekel, executive director of the Asperger/Autism Network. “We are particularly excited to see an initiative like this, which not only gives critical support to students on the spectrum during their college experience, but also trains professionals to prepare autistic adults to navigate the complexities of the workplace.”

“During these unprecedented times, we have seen so many of our athletes continue to go to work in essential jobs throughout New York state,” said Special Olympics New York President and CEO Stacey Hengsterman. “They have been on the front lines and it has been a blessing to them while our sports program has been suspended. There are so many with people with intellectual disabilities who have not yet found their way into the New York workforce, and the Center for Autism Inclusivity at SUNY Empire is certain to create a new pathway for them. Special Olympics New York looks forward to being a part of it.”

“The collaboration between SUNY Empire and the Anderson Center highlights the central importance of the academic and service communities working together to support individuals on the autism spectrum to included and engaged in their community,” Peter Gerhardt, Ed.D. chair of Organization for Autism Research Scientific Council and the executive director of EPIC School in Paramus, New Jersey. “I very much look forward to hearing more as they, together, move forward in the process.”

"We thank SUNY Empire State College for choosing to think differently about residents living on the autism spectrum and providing them the resources to live their fullest lives,” said Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said. “As the father of a daughter on the spectrum, I know firsthand the challenges those living on the spectrum and their loved ones face every day; but I also know the triumphs that can be reached with the encouragement and involvement of their community. We in Dutchess County have seen the success stories from our own 'Think Ahead' collaboration with Dutchess Community College, offering the college experience to qualified students with intellectual disabilities, and such an opportunity at SUNY Empire State College will give even more young adults the opportunity to succeed. There is no better partner than the Anderson Center for Autism, and we look forward to seeing more residents throughout New York reach new heights thanks to the creation of Center for Autism Inclusivity.”

“The Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region recognizes the need for further training to increase the availability of certified and licensed professionals to address the needs of the autism community across New York state, and specifically in the Capital Region,” said Janine Kruiswijk, executive director of the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region. “SUNY Empire State College’s program will provide much needed workforce development for professionals who serve our loved ones impacted by autism. Providing post-secondary education opportunities for high school students impacted by autism will enhance their ability to live independent lives of their choosing and transition to adulthood with needed educational and employment skills.”

“As a mother of a young man with autism, parent educator, and parent advisor, family empowerment is key,” said Paige Piece, executive director of Families Together in New York. “This program will assist not only in garnering better system delivery and understanding but it will also provide parents and caretakers with the tools needed to help their children develop strategies and skills for life! More professionals will lead to reductions of out of home placements, improvement in educational planning and behavioral health crisis calls and hospital admissions. An increase in these services will serve as a goodwill ambassador to parents like myself, schools who are out of solutions and mental health providers who have to differentiate between behaviors that require medication versus behaviors that require a board certified behavior analyst. This is a needed program to help effect positive change for the future of our children.”

“Congratulations to SUNY Empire State College on the development and opening of the Center for Autism Inclusivity,” said Mary Ann Allen, executive director of Wildwood Programs. “There is a growing demand for resources in our field and the center will be a true asset to all organizations supporting people with autism. We look forward to future collaborations, connections and networking with the center. in our field and the center will be a true asset to all organizations supporting people with autism. We look forward to future collaborations, connections and networking with the center.”

“Saratoga Bridges is excited about this new venture that SUNY Empire State College has created,” said Valerie Muratori, executive director of Saratoga Bridges. “Our ability to continue providing the highest level of quality services for individuals who are on the autism disorder spectrum, is predicated on having professionals who have obtained the academic courses to better understand and apply the necessary supports that enhance, empower and enrich the lives of people with autism and their families. The aspect of the Center for Autism Inclusivity we are most excited to hear about is there willingness to expand opportunities to students with autism who need the additional assistance in becoming successful college students. We are truly looking forward to working collaboratively with the center as they begin their journey. This could not be a more encouraging and positive way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act!”

“I am thrilled that we are announcing the launch of the Center for Autism Inclusivity, which has been in development for several years,” said SUNY Empire State College School for Graduate Studies Dean Nathan Gonyea. “The creation of the center is a sign of the commitment of SUNY Empire to help serve everyone in our community, including those who have historically faced barriers to receiving the education and services they need and deserve, including access to a high-quality higher education experience. I look forward to the coming months and years as we begin to launch the various programs and initiatives that will be part of the center.”

“Unfortunately, there are not enough credentialed behavior analysts in New York state to reach the vast number of children and families in need and truly optimize the quality of life for an individual with an autism spectrum disorder,” said Tina Covington, chief operating officer, Anderson Center for Autism. “Anderson Center for Autism is well equipped to address this gap head-on, by developing collaborative models which allow our expertise in the field reach a broader group of service recipients, while also increasing the number of well-educated and well-trained professionals in the field. I am looking forward to seeing this collaboration with SUNY Empire State College come to life and begin impacting people throughout New York state.”

Under Syed’s leadership, the center will not only succeed at educating dedicated professionals in the field of applied behavioral analysis, its faculty and staff will conduct applied research on methods, tools, and practices to support individuals with autism.

Read more about the Center for Autism Inclusivity and its upcoming programs and sessions.

About SUNY Empire State College

SUNY Empire State College educates 16,000 students per year in person, online, and through a blend of both, at campuses and learning hubs located in every region of New York state, and at eight international sites worldwide. Together with one of SUNY Empire’s 800 faculty mentors, each student designs their own individualized pathway to a college degree that accommodates their schedule and awards credit for prior college-level learning. SUNY Empire awards more than 3,000 degrees annually and 94 percent of graduates stay in New York state. Today, more than 89,000 SUNY Empire alumni are entrepreneurs, veterans, and active members of the military, professional athletes, teachers, medical professionals, and leaders in their field, as well as in their communities. To learn more, visit www.esc.edu.

About Anderson Center for Autism

Anderson Center for Autism’s (ACA) philosophy is that all people deserve to live a life of quality. Our mission is to optimize the quality of life for individuals with autism and we strive toward that goal via compassionate service and high standards of excellence.

ACA provides educational, habilitative, recreational, and vocational services to children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) using evidenced-based practices, particularly those grounded in applied behavior analysis. These services are currently delivered in our campus school, children’s residential program, adult day habilitation settings, and in the adult residential setting. In addition, training in applied behavior analysis, functional behavior assessment and program development is delivered to the greater Hudson Valley community through the Anderson Center Consulting Department. ACA is contacted regularly by individuals from all over the State of New York seeking education and training for their loved ones as well as professional training opportunities from those seeking certification in applied behavior analysis.