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SUNY Empire Designated an Autism-Supportive College

Date November 14, 2022

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — SUNY Empire State was recently designated a first-of-its-kind Autism Supportive College by Anderson Center for Autism.

The designation signals that SUNY Empire embeds supports into its culture, infrastructure, and planning to create an inclusive environment and improved academic experience for students with autism and other neurodiversities.

SUNY Empire and Anderson Center held an event to officially receive the designation at SUNY Empire’s Saratoga Springs location.

Anderson Center Consulting & Training awarded the designation to SUNY Empire after careful consultation and training with the college’s faculty and staff, as well as review of SUNY Empire’s current practices and organizational structure and development. SUNY Empire has invested approximately $30,000 over the past two years to make the institution more inclusive. Criteria required for the Autism Supportive College designation include:

• Identifying a plan with measurable objectives, opportunities to educate faculty and staff about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and supports that can be instituted to encourage inclusion and academic success for individuals with ASD.

• Ensuring key faculty and staff are educated about ASD and the common challenges individuals with ASD experience when pursuing higher education.

• Including systems, practices, and procedures that support the inclusion of Autistic and Neurodivergent students in their pursuit of academic, social and career achievement.

• Creating a sustainability plan that includes measured objectives, accountability measures demonstrating success, feedback from students, faculty and staff, and subsequent steps toward a sustained inclusive program.

In 2020, SUNY Empire established its Center for Autism Advocacy: Research, Education, and Supports (CAARES) to better serve autistic and neurodiverse individuals in the classroom, workplace, and beyond. CAARES Director Noor Syed and Assistant Director Lauren Allen have led the charge to deliver community and professional outreach, provide career support for autistic and neurodiverse college students, and conduct research with and in support of neurodiverse individuals through partnerships with people and organizations around the world.

Research suggests that nearly 2% of college students identify as neurodiverse, a term that encompasses the idea that variation in human brain function is normal and that brain function not considered “typical” should not be stigmatized.

Anderson Center Chief Executive Officer Patrick Paul is a 1994 graduate of SUNY Empire. Earlier this year, Paul was honored with the college’s Citizen Laureate Award.

“I am so proud that SUNY Empire has made support of Autistic students a priority, and that the work to become an Autism Supportive College has been undertaken with such integrity, compassion, and focus. I’m grateful to all who helped establish our leadership in serving students in this incredibly important and often overlooked space,” SUNY Empire President Lisa Vollendorf, Ph.D., said.

“It is an honor and privilege for the Center for Autism Advocacy: Research, Education, and Supports to work in collaboration with Autistic and Neurodivergent communities, Anderson Center for Autism, and colleagues within SUNY Empire State College to increase access to higher education for everyone. We are grateful for this movement towards inclusivity and are excited to continue building much-needed resources within an Autism Supportive College,” SUNY Empire State’s Susan H. Turben Director for Autism Advocacy, Noor Syed, Ph.D., remarked.

“SUNY Empire State College’s values are evident in the commitment to creating a more inclusive and supportive college experience for Autistic and Neurodivergent students, in addition to all students and the broader college community. I am grateful to the students, faculty, staff, and professional employees who have and continue to contribute to efforts aligned to the Autism Supportive College initiative,” SUNY Empire State’s assistant director of the Center for Autism Advocacy: Research, Education, and Supports, Lauren Allen, Ph.D. explained.

“By embracing this opportunity to become an Autism Supportive College, SUNY Empire State has helped us make great strides in our mission to optimize the quality of life for people with autism. We are so grateful for their visionary leadership and tireless efforts to ensure that neurodivergent students will have the support, accommodations, and sense of belonging needed to successfully pursue higher education. Our hope is that colleges and universities around the country — and all over the world — will be inspired to do the same,” Anderson Center for Autism Chief Operating Officer Tina Covington, PhD., BCBA-D, LBA, noted.

“I want to thank everyone at the Anderson Center and our partners at SUNY Empire for all the work we’ve done together to serve children and adults. This autism supportive recognition is so well deserved,” Anderson Center for Autism Chief Executive Officer and 1994 SUNY Empire State alumnus, Patrick Paul added.