The mission of the Foundations Program is to educate college students living with Autism Spectrum Disorders in a program that equally emphasizes academic and social competency.
In December, 2009 U.S. Senators Arlen Specter and Bob Casey announced that Congress had approved $100,000 in federal funding to support Mercyhurst’s progressive initiative on behalf of students with Asperger Syndrome, operated through the college’s Learning Differences Program.
The project was part of the Fiscal Year 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was sent to President Obama to be signed into law. The infusion of federal funds allowed Mercyhurst to expand its array of services and outreach to students with autism, providing counseling and job training programs and offering public forums to increase awareness, including an invitation to Jane Thierfeld Brown, co-author of the definitive book, Students with Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for College Personnel who presented to well over 400 faculty and community members during Autism Awareness month activities in April, 2010.
The Asperger Initiative partnered with the Guelcher Film series in April, 2010 to bring Adam
, a strikingly accurate portrayal of a young man with Asperger Syndrome and winner of Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the Sundance Film Festival (2009), to Mercyhurst.
Following the evening screening, several professionals shared their perspectives on the film. Panelists included Dr. Eileen McNamara, medical director of the Adult Autism Connection of the Barber National Institute; Dr. Joseph McAllister, director of psychological services at Pittsburgh’s Watson Institute; and clinical psychologist Janet Pawlowski, founder of KaleidAScope, Inc., which serves those 15 years and older with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Other benchmarks for 2010 included obtaining a generous donation from the Albers Family that allowed Mercyhurst to co-host along with the Watson Institute a transition summer program for capable high school students.
In 2011, Mercyhurst hired a full time coordinator for the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM).