Construction has begun on the future home of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, the nation’s first autism center focused on public health science. The autism-friendly space will be located at 3020 Market St., across from the Goodwin College of Professional Studies, and is expected to open this summer.
It is the first institution of its kind to bring a public-health research approach to autism spectrum disorders. The center’s researchers consist of epidemiologists, community psychologists, environmental health scientists, and health and education policy research specialists from both Drexel University and abroad. Jennifer Plumb, director of the Community Outreach Core, was thrilled with the progress.
“We are very excited to be moving into our new LEED-certified space at 3020 Market St. and especially excited about the location being in the 30th Street hub that Drexel is building,” she said.
The Institute’s philosophy is based around the prevention of physical and mental impediments that autistic patients experience. Autism spectrum disorders are a set of neurodevelopmental disabilities that fundamentally alter a person’s ability to interact and communicate with others. The disorder is now believed to affect nearly 900,000, or one in 88, U.S. children and as many 5 million U.S. adults.
“Our space is going to have state-of-the-art assessment rooms, and with the development and implementation of our mobile assessment unit, we are going to be providing outreach into underserved communities,” Plumb said.
The new space will be a physical commitment to the Institute’s innovative public-health structure. No problem is too small to be overlooked. The shiny metallic panels, which come standard with any elevator, are being addressed because visitors with autism might find them distracting, or even troubling, if they have heightened sensitivities to visual sensations.
A specially-designed, quick-entry bathroom will allow ASD children to spend less time performing necessary functions, and more time in the classroom. A special waiting area will be designed for family members who want to remain with patients without interrupting the researchers. Each issue will address the Institute’s overall goal to prevent disability by making ease and comfort its top priority.
“Plumb said that the Institute hopes to offer research and co-op opportunities to Drexel students in the future. One of the studies that will be conducted by researchers at the Institute will be to determine if chemical exposure while in the prenatal environment causes pathologic changes in the developing brain. Another study will work to construct new training approaches for community-based early intervention specialists in order to manage the challenging behaviors of persons with ASD. Each test will strive to have the broadest possible impact and not become limited to a select group of participants. Persons with ASD from the surrounding communities, including Mantua and West Philadelphia, will be welcome to come in for a clinical evaluation.
Questions regarding research, patient evaluation strategy or employment opportunities at the Institute can be directed to [email protected] or 215-255-7373.