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Anderson Center for Autism Celebrates 100 Years

Author Becky Tyre
Date February 13, 2024

In 1924, Dr. Victor V. Anderson founded the Anderson Center for Autism to assist and support individuals with special needs. Since then, the Anderson Center has provided clinical, educational, vocational and residential services to thousands of autistic children and adults. Vance Gage, who grew up on the center’s campus in Staatsburg, NY, and now lives in Washington, DC., honors his grandfather’s legacy by serving as a volunteer and trustee for the organization. 

Gage will be honored at Anderson’s annual gala on September 28, as part of a centennial celebration that will include numerous events throughout 2024. For example, in April, Gage will serve as honorary brewmaster during the annual Mr. Anderson Ale Launch Party at Mill House Brewing Company in Poughkeepsie. For ten years, proceeds from this event have furthered the center’s mission.

One of the largest employers in Dutchess County, the Anderson Center employs more than 800 people. In addition to the school and residences at the Staatsburg campus, the organization runs Cold Spring Early Learning Center in Pine Plains and Anderson Center Clinic in Latham. Anderson Center Consulting and Training educates stakeholders on how best to support the needs of neurodivergent and autistic individuals and Anderson Center International is a training program for scholars from all over the world who spend 12-18 months at Anderson gaining skills needed to develop programs in their home countries. According to Eliza Bozenski, Anderson’s Chief Development Officer, Anderson serves students from seven US states. 

Rhinebeck: A Supportive Community

In 2018, as an effort to foster a culture of inclusivity and accessibility beyond the campus, Anderson’s consulting team reached out to the Village of Rhinebeck. With a grant from the Thomas Thompson Trust and the support of Mayor Gary Bassett, a committee was formed to train volunteers, businesses and community leaders to help make the community more welcoming for people on the autism spectrum.

The collaboration is the first-of-its-kind autism supportive community in the Hudson Valley. Chaired by former school superintendent Joe Phelan, the Rhinebeck Autism Supportive Committee is presently working with the Lions Club to improve the Mini Park on South Parsonage Street, making it more accommodating to all kids, including those with autism.

Autism covers a wide range of neurological conditions, including impairments in communication and social interaction, repetitive behaviors and difficulty regulating emotions. Although the extent of the symptoms varies with the individual, unfamiliar or over-stimulating environments may cause distress. Rhinebeck businesses whose staff  have received training from Anderson Center display autism-friendly signage throughout the village, indicating a welcoming environment through efforts such as replacing fluorescent bulbs with softer lighting or decreasing the music volume in their businesses. Rhinebeck police have been trained to offer sound-reducing headphones to calm an autistic person who may be agitated. Families also value the Sensory Safe Spaces organized by the committee during the Sinterklaas Parade and other Rhinebeck events.

Family Support and Activism

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2023, 1 in 36 children in the US had autism, up from a previous rate of 1 in 44. The numbers were much lower when Jeanne Raichle’s daughter Katy was diagnosed with autism 44 years ago and her parents brought her from their home in Brooklyn to Staatsburg to live at Anderson Center. 

Jeanne Raichle is a member of the Anderson Family Partners, a parent-driven advocacy group that addresses the challenges in navigating the educational system and raises awareness around the disorder. The group also lobbies for additional programming and funding.

“The most powerful advocacy is a face to face discussion,” said Raichle, who has met with legislators in Washington, DC, and Albany to bring awareness to the need for better pay for providers and to lobby for funding for housing for Anderson students as they transition into adulthood. Raichle said there is a dire shortage of direct service providers, particularly those who work in the residential homes. She is convinced that better pay for the providers would alleviate the shortage of those who oversee the basic care of residential patients, like Katy.

Upon retiring, Raichle and her husband moved to Hyde Park to be closer to their daughter. At age 50, Katy lives in one of Anderson’s off-campus residential homes with three other women and participates in a Day Habilitation program where she continues to improve her life skills. Raichle said she is extremely thankful for all the work, dedication and devotion of the staff at Anderson and looks forward to celebrating the centennial milestone with them this year.