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SMC Autism Studies Program receives $500,000 endowment

| Monday, March 25, 2019

The Masters of Autism Studies program at Saint Mary’s received a $500,000 endowment from the Peter B. and Adeline W. Ruffin Foundation, located in New York City.

Michael Waddell, director of the Autism Studies Program, said the Ruffin Foundation first became interested in the College’s program after the success of its Pivotal Response treatment workshop in March 2018.

“We had 600 people registered for that workshop, which was our first one, and it made quite a splash,” he said. “From what I gather, that is what caught the attention of the people at the Ruffin Foundation.”

Waddell said he also thinks the program will gain attention due to the fact that the students will receive additional education through future workshops.

“When students arrive, they’ll participate in those workshops, so in addition to their academic coursework, they’ll be trained in all the best forms of autism intervention as part of their education at Saint Mary’s,” Waddell said.

The Autism Studies Program hosted a sequential workshop in April 2018 featuring speaker Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson who specializes in autism intervention.

“She’s one of the co-founders of a form of intervention called the ‘PEERS Method.’ She’s also a leader in autism intervention, so it was a very big deal to get her as well,” Waddell said.

Professor Susan Latham, a faculty member of the Masters of Autism Studies, said the endowment is beneficial to the reputation of the program.

“The intention [of the workshops] is to get people trained, so they can implement the interventions, distribute widely in the community and also across the country because we’ve had participants from all over the U.S. coming for our training so far,” she said.

In regards to the endowment, Latham said more members of the community can have access to specific education in relation to autism intervention.

“This money allows us to make things accessible so that people in the community can be trained without having an incredible investment, and it’s getting people trained as efficiently and economically as possible,” she said.

Though the endowment funds will not be attainable for two years, Waddell said the Ruffin Foundation has provided the program with “start-up money” which will allow the workshops to remain accessible in nature.

“It’s often difficult to access this type of training, either because it’s not available in the Midwest, but even when it is available regionally, it’s often very expensive,” he said. “We’ve been able to find financial resources to offset the cost of these workshops to make them either free or at very low prices compared to what people would pay if they wanted to get that training on their own.”

Latham said she’s happy people are coming for more than just a certificate in an intervention method.

“I think what’s important is that people aren’t attending just for certification, but that they are desperate for information about how to work with people on the spectrum,” she said. “Just having professionals together who want to learn, they’re going to get something out of the training outside of the certification or not.”

Waddell said he is also “pleased and proud” to recognize such an unaddressed yet prevalent issue in the Michiana community.

“This is going to change the way that Michiana region is able to serve people on the spectrum and their loved ones,” he said. “We’re making resources available here that weren’t before.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Saint Mary’s received the endowment “last week” when it was established in spring of 2018. The Observer regrets this error.

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