Westchester County Executive Andy Spano kicked off Autism Awareness Month on April 3 and the location could not have been more appropriate: Devereux Millwood Learning Center (DMLC).
In front of students, families and members of the press, Spano affirmed his commitment to families affected by autism and called on legislators to increase funding and support to combat the neurological illness that afflicts more than 1.5 million individuals.
“I am supporting the Combating Autism Act of 2005, which will authorize over $1 billion in spending over the next five years,” said Spano. “These resources will go into research, screening, intervention and education efforts, in effect doubling the current National Institute of Health’s (NIH) autism funding.”
Spano also announced the launch of a new county online resource
, “Speaking out About Autism.” The site offers information on services for families, assists with community understanding of autism, reinforces the need for more research and funding and provides interested individuals with a wealth of links and opportunities for advocacy.
Spano also presented proclamations from Westchester County to Ann DiChiara of The Foundation for Educating Children with Autism (FECA), Dr. Dena Saxe, director of DMLC, John O’Keefe, executive director of Devereux New York and Matthew Harris, president of the Autism Speaks Now club at Fix Lane Middle School. Phil Orlando, a member of FECA’s board, served as host of the event, and introduced Dr. Anjani Mehta who spoke about the need for a unified voice among autism organizations.
“We need to form strong partnerships,” said Mehta, standing with her husband, Paul. “This endeavor strives to bring solutions to many of the daunting challenges and issues faced by our children and our families.”
Mehta also remarked about the significant improvement she has seen in her daughter, Sheela, since starting at DMLC in September, “She’s doing very well here.”
Currently, there are 37 students at DMLC with plans to increase that by another 12 starting in the fall of 2006. Students in the program receive one-to-one attention in academics as well as social and vocational training. In February 2005, DMLC was featured on the Closing Bell segment of CNBC, specifically focusing on three students employed in the community. At present, nearly 60% of the students hold off-campus jobs.