Published May 2, 2022

By Scott Fogdall

The Autism MVP Foundation Endowed Fellowship will create new, hands-on educational opportunities for Rutgers graduate students who want to empower adults with autism.

The edge of a cliff—that’s how the first day after high school can feel to young adults with an autism spectrum disorder. Up to that point, most school districts provide a range of federally mandated support services, from transportation to speech-language therapy to behavior management. At graduation, it can all disappear.

Yu Yan wants to help young people with ASD transcend the “services cliff” and discover all the rewards of adulthood. A third-year doctoral student in the School Psychology program at Rutgers’ Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP), Yan will take her efforts to the next level thanks to a $31,500 grant from the New Jersey-based Autism MVP Foundation.

The grant and the fellowship it generates will enable Yan to undergo intensive training at the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services which focuses on working with ASD-affected adults. Located at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in a state-of-the-art building dedicated in 2021, the RCAAS welcomes people with autism into a supportive community where they can learn vital skills and determine their own paths in the adult world.

With training rooms, recreational areas, and many other advanced features, the RCAAS offers numerous opportunities for immersive training to advanced-degree students like Yan and other emerging professionals with a passion for developing autism support strategies. The Autism MVP Foundation fellowship is designed to bring the best and brightest of these trainees to the center.

The Autism MVP Foundation focuses on building, cultivating, and strengthening the region’s workforce of educators and therapists in the autism field. New Jersey parent and Autism MVP executive director Keith Green launched the nonprofit organization in 2015 after he and his wife Donna learned of their young son’s autism diagnosis.

“There is a desperate need for highly skilled, motivated, and experienced therapists and educators to work with adults who have autism,” says Green. “We are proud to partner with Rutgers University and RCAAS, which are doing an outstanding job of teaching and training our leaders of tomorrow. We hope this endowed fellowship program incentivizes students to further their careers and make a profound impact on adults who are affected by autism.”

SungWoo Kahng, associate professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at GSAPP and co-director of research at the RCAAS, lauds Green’s decision to provide the grant. “The Autism MVP Foundation is the only organization I know of whose mission is to support the training of personnel to help support individuals with autism,” says Kahng. “This is significant because of the shortage of qualified, highly trained clinicians.”

Kahng adds, “The Autism MVP fellowship will be particularly impactful because it helps to highlight an underresourced area of autism, support for adults with ASD. It will encourage and recognize students who want to pursue careers supporting adults with ASD.”

In the long term, creating the Autism MVP Foundation Endowed Fellowship will enable different students to receive crucial funding every academic year. Meanwhile, Yan looks forward to exploring new avenues of learning made possible by the fellowship. Expressing concern for “the growing numbers of youth with ASD who are entering adulthood each year and facing the ‘services cliff’ in employment, continuing education, or independent living,” Yan says she intends “to help young adults with autism become more independent and to manage all the demands of work and community life.”

“I am truly grateful to the Autism MVP Foundation for the fellowship support,” says Yan. “It allows me to focus on my studies supporting young adults with autism and maximize my professional growth and development.”

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