NEW YORK, NY (December 20, 2007) -- Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism advocacy organization, has approved more than $565,000 in funding for 29 family services community grants, it was announced today by Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr. The grants will help community organizations across the country expand existing programs and create new ones that show true innovation in providing services to improve and enrich the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

In September, Autism Speaks invited autism service providers to submit grant applications that promote services which enhance the lives of those affected by autism spectrum disorders. Grant proposals were solicited that addressed one or more of the following areas of need: education, recreation/community activities, equipment/supportive technology and young adult services. Autism Speaks received 355 applications from organizations in 41 states and Canada in this initial family services grant cycle.

"These initial community grants focus on building the field of services for individuals with autism and expanding the capacity to effectively serve this growing community and its range of needs," said Roithmayr. "There are many organizations out there doing remarkable and innovative work, and Autism Speaks is committed to helping them take their programs to the next level."

"Although our primary mission at Autism Speaks is to identify more effective treatments and ultimately find a cure for autism, we are also committed to improving the quality of life for those affected by autism today," said Peter Bell, executive vice president of programs and services at Autism Speaks, who also has a 14 year old son with autism. "As the population of people affected by autism grows and ages up, it is imperative that we expand the field of autism services to help our children realize their full potential."

A two-tier review process was used to assess each grant application. In the first tier, each proposal was reviewed by both the parent of a child with autism who had experience in the area of need and an autism professional with expertise in that same area. To help ensure objectivity, proposals were assigned to reviewers located in a different geographic location from the applicant. A total of 176 proposals that earned an established minimum score were reviewed by members of the Autism Speaks Family Services Committee (FSC).

The FSC members considered the following criteria for each program:

  • Field building -- increasing services (new opportunities) and the capacity of service providers;
  • Number of individuals served;
  • Innovation and creativity;
  • Geography;
  • Ability to address the needs of the underserved;
  • Replicability;
  • Services provided for individuals across the spectrum.

The 29 approved grants totaling $565,100 fall into the following categories: Education -- thirteen grants ($258,500); Recreation/Community Activities - eight grants ($141,900); Young Adult/Adults Services - four grants ($85,400); Equipment/Supportive Technology - four grants ($79,300). A full list of grants can be found here.

In the area of education, the grants will fund an array of innovative initiatives. One program will create a 20-minute instructional film to help parents and professionals teach children with autism how to communicate in play and become more socially connected to others. Another organization will utilize funding to train 200 parents of children with autism, informing them about available services and their legal rights, and providing intensive and culturally appropriate services to 30 Haitian and Latino families. A South Carolina school district will train teachers to meet the assistive technology needs of students with autism, train other teachers who have students with autism, and serve as mentors for those teachers. In Central Nebraska, an intensive parent training program will help fill the services void in three rural, underserved communities.

The young adult and adult services programs that have been awarded grants include an organization that provides job training and placement services for teens with autism, and recently added vocational services for young adults. It will use the funding to expand its adult division to serve more young adults with autism, provide additional working hours, teach new job skills and add more employers to its roster. Another organization will launch a pilot semester of a supported college program for young people with autism spectrum and related disorders for freshman and sophomore students at a local community college.

A public school district in Virginia received a grant in the equipment and supportive technology category to purchase computer software - which helps create visual supports and facilitates interaction -- for 19 elementary school ASD classes and to train teachers. At the secondary level, a new program will enhance social skills and reduce bullying. Another school serving individuals with autism will create an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Library, featuring devices that can help students improve their ability to communicate and interact with the world and live more independently. In Palm Beach County, Florida, a first response initiative will be launched to help locate individuals with ASD and ensure their safety.

In the area of recreation/community activities, one grant will enable a group that uses live theater as a means to teach social cognition skills to expand the scope of its program. A summer golf program for middle and high school students in New Jersey, which promotes improved communication, social and physical skills, and the formation of closer bonds with peers, siblings and parents, will also be expanded. A children's museum will use funding to create exclusive events for children with autism and their families in a safe, friendly and understanding environment. And a YMCA camp will provide 10 weekends of respite care in a camp setting for 20 young adults with ASD.

All of the applicants will be included in the Autism Speaks Family Services Resource Guide. It is anticipated that Autism Speaks will announce the next round of Family Services Community Grants by the end of the first quarter in 2008.

Read more . Plus, read summaries of the funded projects.