The Organizational Engagement Program of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN UCEDD, LEND, IDDRC) Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) is an innovative partnership with community cultural and civic organizations that works to promote full inclusion of children and adults with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

Founded in 2013 under the leadership of Lauren Weaver, M.S., BCBA, TRIAD outreach coordinator, the initial idea for the program came from families attending TRIAD's monthly Families First workshops. There, parents shared some of the challenges they experienced when attempting to take their children with autism into the community. TRIAD staff and faculty quickly resolved to provide training and resources for community organizations to promote welcome.

"We've learned that the community organizations we're working with are really enthusiastic about this work," said Weaver. "They have a real commitment to making sure their programs and events are welcoming of all individuals, but many have expressed that they were not always sure how to get started. That's where a partnership with TRIAD made sense. Organizations welcomed the support from us to make them feel comfortable in moving forward with modifications and materials that were going to be of value to individuals with autism and their families."

TRIAD community partners include: Cheekwood Art & Gardens, Country Music Hall of Fame, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville Ballet, Nashville Children's Theatre, Nashville Opera, Nashville Predators, Nashville Public Library, Nashville Symphony, Nashville Zoo, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Tennessee State Fair, YMCA of Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt Athletics; as well as Metro Nashville Police Department and Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

TRIAD education specialists have created supports that families and staff can download or check out whenever families visit these organizations. Supports include visual schedules, modified maps, first-then boards, tip sheets for parents, and sensory modifications on live performances.

From 2013 to 2016, TRIAD provided 23 staff trainings, reaching 527 people, and collaborated to support 39 events, with 42,410 persons attending.

TRIAD also provides training for government organizations. They created an online training module for all Tennessee Department of Children's Services staff. They trained the Crisis Negotiator Team of Metro's Police Department and the Comprehensive Regional Pediatric Center Outreach Team, which in turn provides education to hospital ERs and EMS in Middle Tennessee.

TRIAD's work with some partners has led to national impact. The Nashville Zoo's staff found the partnership so valuable that they invited Weaver to present zoo-related supports and modifications at the Annual Mid-Year Meeting of the Association for Zoos and Aquariums. The partnership with Nashville Children's Opera led to the creation of a toolkit for Opera America to disseminate information about autism spectrum disorder and steps for creating inclusive performances at other opera associations. (/)

"It's fantastic to see the impact of our partnerships growing and benefitting organizations and families all around the country," said Weaver. "In Tennessee, we will hold ten events with our local partners this year from January 28-May 6. The Nashville Ballet and Nashville Symphony will hold their very first sensory-friendly events, and we are excited to introduce a new event passport that families can have stamped when they attend. Collect them all!"

Weaver has led the program from a good idea to a community-wide reality. Her achievements will be recognized at the Annual Meeting of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities when she is presented with the 2017 Full Community Inclusion Award. The award recognizes culturally responsive programs that have succeeded in full community inclusion and participation.