By Young Soo Yang
More than 300 people gathered Thursday to celebrate the opening of Eden Autism Services’ brand new Education and Outreach Center located in the Princeton Forrestal Village in Princeton. The Center is the culmination of an almost four decades dream of building an autism school and national headquarters.
“Today is a day to celebrate,” said Eden Autism Services President and CEO, Dr. Tom McCool. “Our children, adults, families and staff have waited a long time for this day and I thank all of those who took part in making it happen.”
Founded in 1975, Eden Autism Services provides early intervention, education, employment training and residential services for children and adults with autism. Eden’s founders were 12 families with children with autism. At the time, there were no services available to educate and care for their children.
The incidence of autism has continued to rise since Eden was founded. In 1975, statistics for autism showed one in 10,000 children. Today, one in 110 children nationwide is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The statistics are even more alarming in New Jersey, where the prevalence rate is one in 94. According to Eden Autism Services President and CEO Dr. Tom McCool, the reason for the high prevalence rate in New Jersey is mainly due to better early diagnosis. While there are more services, programs and medical research devoted to the study and treatment of autism, there is still no clear cause and no cure for this neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a child’s communication and social skills, ability to empathize and often IQ.
The new facility includes a model convenience store and office training room to foster job preparation skills, a kitchen for use with Eden’s culinary arts program, a gymnasium and exercise room and 37 individual therapy rooms.
Also, serving as Eden’s headquarters, the new building includes Eden’s Outreach program including Wawa House, one of the nation’s first early intervention programs which was funded by Wawa Inc. Teachers, professionals and families are invited to visit, learn and acquire training in Eden’s practices and curriculum, which are proven to effectively serve individuals with autism. Services will also include virtual classroom training and long-distance outreach support. The building also houses Eden’s administrative offices.
There are currently 59 students at Eden. The new facility will accommodate 80, says McCool. The demand for Eden’s services is high. Even with the expansion, Eden wouldn’t be able to accommodate the 100 that are currently on the waiting list. According to McCool, some students take a one-hour bus ride each way to attend Eden. Because it is part of the public school system, students are referred to Eden by their school districts and there is no cost to the families.