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Center for Discovery Welcomes Autism Speaks

MONTICELLO, NY (July 17, 2013) -- The senior leadership of the Center for Discovery spent the day with Autism Speaks President Liz Feld, Michael Rosen, executive vice president for strategic communications, and members of the science staff showcasing its six decades of groundbreaking work with children and adults with autism, severe disabilities, and medical frailties.

The Center is the largest residential pediatric provider in New York State, employing 1,500 staff on three campuses spanning 1,500 acres to serve its expanding population of residential and day clients, or "guests." The Center began its work serving children with severe physical disabilities, but has since more than doubled its population by responding to the autism epidemic. Residents are served an organic diet of food grown at the Center, many eating at tables specially designed by an adaptive technology unit.

Patrick Dollard, the Center's president and CEO, said he had not wanted to name the center after a disease, but rather to reflect the facility's philosophy in moving the thinking forward in developmental disabilities and being open to all possibilities. "I would bring in a shaman from the forest if I thought it would help us," he said.

During a tour of the Center, Autism Speaks officials visited residential facilities for children and adults with autism, classrooms, farm facilities and the Big Barn Discovery School research center.

Theresa Hamlin, the Center's associate executive director (left with research associate Matt Northrup) demonstrated a project employing biometric sensors, computer vision and other advanced techniques to collect data on the classroom interactions between students and teachers. By  simultaneously tracking stress levels and heart rates, technicians can detect when children with autism have been triggered into engaging in disruptive behaviors. 

Using the data, researchers can identify specific triggers for specific children and provide early warning to teachers and caregivers to respond before situations escalate.

Officials from the Center and Autism Speaks discussed their respective efforts in dealing with autism internationally and the need to raise awareness that autism is a global issue.