NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University on Monday broke ground on the new state-of-the-art facility that will house the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services (RCAAS) which provides employment, vocational training and other services to individuals with autism.

The center, located on the Douglass Campus, is the first of its kind at a higher education institution in the United States. The new building, expected to open in 2020, will allow the center to more than double its capacity from 12 to 30 participants.  The project, estimated to cost $9.5 million, is financed by philanthropic funds.

“This center will have a lasting impact on the lives of adults with autism in NJ and across the country,” President Robert L. Barchi said at the groundbreaking event.

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RCAAS, established in 2016, serves adults with autism by providing meaningful, paid employment and integration into the Rutgers community. The new facility will include vocational and life skills teaching areas, high-tech meeting rooms, and amenities intended to provide a welcoming environment for program participants and other members of the surrounding community, including Rutgers students, faculty and staff.

Current participants work five days per week in paid, on-campus jobs in areas such as food service, horticulture maintenance, the Rutgers Golf Course and document and records management. Participants also benefit from individualized services to help them succeed on the job and maintain their independence in the community.

Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology Dean Francine Conway said the center, “presents a model of what adults with autism can accomplish.”

“At GSAPP, our centers and the families involved are moving forward in the right direction. Today is just the beginning,” she said.

Christopher Manente, executive director of the center, said, “The RCAAS exists to stand for those adults on the spectrum who are not always able to stand up for themselves, and whenever possible it also exists to amplify the voices of those who can.”

“Today, I call on all of you to stand with us in opposition to the lack of awareness and the general indifference that the rest of the world continues to show in response to the crisis impacting adults with autism and their families. Today, I ask that all of you help us change the world,” he said.

Autism and autism spectrum disorder are among the fastest-growing developmental disabilities in the United States. Rutgers-New Brunswick’s Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology created the center to address the well-documented shortage of quality services that help adults with autism lead meaningful and productive lives, and to conduct research that can inform the development of other programs for adults with autism.

Rutgers-New Brunswick is a leader in autism research facilities. The Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository, containing the world’s largest collection of autism biomaterials, and the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, which includes an on-campus K-12 day school for children with autism from across New Jersey, are among many research and educational programs for autism at the university.