The Autism Society of Pittsburgh, since its founding in 1966, has had a rather productive existence. Many of the programs and initiatives started here in Pittsburgh have inspired the establishment of similar endeavors far beyond our Western Pennsylvania borders.
These two documents evidence this: the first, “For the Record,” lists accomplishments during the past 49 years, and the second, “Current Activities,” describes what we have undertaken in this year alone—all thanks to the support of individuals, businesses and sports organizations in the Greater Pittsburgh area.
- Conducting “Juvenile Justice and Autism” training programs to probation officers, district judges, attorneys, and judicial staff members. Sessions are scheduled for each discipline to take place locally and throughout the state.
- Developing autism awareness curriculum for middle school students, teachers and paraprofessionals with the support of Duquesne University Department of Education. Curriculum is based upon the documentary film The Family Next Door.
- Presenting The Family Next Door documentary film at the National Autism Society convention as a method of raising awareness and funds for local affiliates. Also showing the film locally at schools, universities and libraries throughout the region.
- Collaborating with Westinghouse technical staff to bring the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum and tutoring to local students with high-functioning autism. Plans to include school district programming and Camp SPEAK participation.
- Coordinating monthly parent support group discussions throughout the region. Speakers include educational advocates, rehabilitation counselors, special needs attorneys and pharmacists.
- Participation in autism awareness events such as health fairs, autism walks, and high school transition fairs to provide ongoing education, advocacy and referrals. Conducting in-service autism training to local schools, churches and community agencies.
- Responding to daily calls and website inquiries from parents and clinicians seeking support and clarification.
- Communicating vital, relevant information regarding autism to statewide lists of concerned parents and professionals through an extensive database.
- Ongoing enlightenment of local, state and federal government elected and appointed officers in support of families and individuals with autism.
- Maintaining and updating of comprehensive information, referral and advocacy website for our organization with links to relevant local, state and national sources on issues affecting those living and dealing with autism.
- Individual in-service presentations for teachers, service providers and various professional groups serving or otherwise involved with those with autism.
For the Record
A Summary of Initiatives of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh
– Since 1966 –
Autism is a severely incapacitating lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It occurs in approximately one out of every 58 births and is four times more common in boys than girls. Autism Spectrum Disorder has been found throughout the world in families of all racial, ethnic, and social backgrounds. No known factors in the psychological environment of a child have been shown to cause autism.
We of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh comprise the local chapter of the Autism Society of America. We are volunteers, parents and professionals, working on behalf of all children and adults with autism in the Greater Pittsburgh area, and the additional children and those of adult age on the autism spectrum who possess some peripheral form of this neurological disorder of communication and behavior. Our objective is to improve the lives of those with autism, and their families.
The goal of our Chapter is to assist autism involved parents, families and the caring professionals who work with them, by providing advocacy and making available as much relevant information on autism spectrum disorders as is known to us.
We charge no membership dues, and exist solely on donated funds. Our United Way “contributor choice” number is #163.
In Daily Life & Recreation
First Group Home – 1970-1976: Co-founded Pennsylvania’s, and the nation’s, first community group home — on Thomas Boulevard in Point Breeze, Pittsburgh, PA – and eight more group homes thereafter.
Camp Chipeewee – 1967 to present: A product of the HEED Parents Group in Monroeville, PA, serving individuals with developmental disabilities in a summer program of recreational activities.
Summer Program for the Education of Autistic Kids (SPEAK) – 1974 to present: Summer program of education, recreation and community awareness building for individuals with autism, ages 5 through 21. This program prevents or significantly reduces summertime learning regression. SPEAK is recognized as the region’s premier Federally-mandated extended school year program.
In the Courts
Senate Bill 50 – 1966: Relieved parents of financial liability for developmentally disabled family members in institutions or other out-of-home residential care and treatment facilities or receiving treatment under various Federal and State mandates for their specific impairments. Provisions later incorporated into the first Federal Developmental Disabilities and Bill of Rights Act.
Combined Parents Legislative Action Committee – 1966 to 1979: Co-founded with other special interest parent’s groups, to educate and assist legislators in creating and passing legislation relevant to better serve the needs of all those with disabilities.
Armstrong-Kline – 1979: This US Supreme Court decision mandated extended school year education for those individuals with disabilities determined as likely to regress in learning during the summer months. The pivotal amicus curiae brief supporting this concept was written by Connie and Dan Torisky of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh; it became law in 1984.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – 1979: Members of our chapter represented ASA on the task force that enabled the expansion of the Education of All Handicapped Act (EHA) to include all individuals with autism and related disorders of behavior and communication. Further, in 1990, we provided Diagnostic Statistical Manual Fourth Edition (DSM IV) language defining autism clearly, enabling appropriate addressing of the special needs of individuals with autism.
Pennsylvania Education Code Revisions – 2004-2007: Created Special Education Work Group that worked with PA House Speaker and PA Department of Education to update the code with autism appropriate regulatory revisions.
In Family & Leadership Education
HEED Parents Group – 1966: Help and Education for Exceptional Dependents – the first parents’ group in Pennsylvania to represent all individuals with developmental disabilities including those with autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, specific learning disabilities and mental retardation.
Western Center Parents’ Group – 1967: Co-founded the first parents’ group at an institution in the state of Pennsylvania, and led to the founding of parents’ groups at all institutions in Pennsylvania, resulting in institutional reform as well as improvement of services and quality of life for individuals receiving residential care, treatment and habilitation at such centers — public and private.
Police Training Film and Curriculum – 2001: At the invitation of the Pennsylvania Municipal Police Education and Training Center (MPOETC), prepared classroom curriculum and a 30-minute training tape describing characteristics of autism to enable law enforcement officers to deal appropriately with individuals with autism in custody after arrest or apprehension.
Transitioning to Adulthood – 2004: Based on PA Autism Task Force findings, prepared guidelines for overcoming governmental obstacles to effective transitioning to adulthood of those with autism.
Pennsylvania Autism Showcase Conference – 2006: Organized and chaired, highlighted the urgency and speeded up the implementation of key imperatives of the PA Autism Task Force, including establishment of the PA Bureau of Autism Services, and other groundbreaking initiatives.
Keystone Autism Information System (KAIS) – 2009: Established a web-based, parent-fed, statistical autism information exchange, listing, statewide, services and establishments felt by parents to be accommodating to those with autism and their families.
In the Classroom
Nine Special Education Centers – 1968 to 1975: Co-founded special education schools for students with developmental disabilities, ages 6 through 21, including jointure boards leading to construction and staffing of these schools by the Allegheny (County) Intermediate Unit.
Monroeville Developmental Center – 1969: Co-founded a program of pre-school experience for individuals with developmental disabilities regardless of diagnosis or specific label. It later became a licensed pre-school program, called the St. Peter’s Child Development Center.
Autistic Children’s Program – 1972 to present: Co-founded with Allegheny Intermediate Unit; the state’s first specialized program of elementary and secondary education for children with autism, Pathfinder School in Bethel Park, PA.
Autism Support Classrooms – 1980 to present: Individually, as well as in a consulting capacity, we have been responsible for the creation of autism support classrooms in Allegheny County school districts, we well as in the City of Pittsburgh – addressing school boards, as well as providing information and support for parents and other professionals in the school systems seeking to create such classrooms.
SPECTRUM Charter School – 2000 to present: Co-founded first charter school in the country to combine classroom education with vocational instruction and training for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, ages 13-21, enabling them to be graduated into community-based employment.