UNION COUNTY, NJ — In celebration of National Autism Awareness Month, Community Access Unlimited is celebrating the progress of its members who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum in timing with April’s National Autism Awareness Month.
CAU, a statewide nonprofit which has its headquarters in Elizabeth, provides support programs and services to adults with disabilities, as well as youth served under the Department of Children and Families.
CAU supports dozens of members with autism, both children and adults, with members supported either in their own homes or in CAU housing.
For families seeking in-home support for their child under the age of 21, services begin with a meet and greet with the member and his or her family, followed by an assessment completed by a board certified behavior analyst. A support plan is created and then reviewed and modified to reflect goals set by the member and their family. Behavior technicians implement the plan with oversight from a behavior analyst, with reinforcement from family members.
Members with autism who live in a residential program at CAU receive support from members of the behavioral team at CAU and assessment by a behavior analyst or Master’s-level clinician. Members then work with their designated behaviorist to set goals and support staff is given guidelines on how to best help the member they support achieve the milestones set in their plan.
Tracy Honig, managing director for behavioral supports at CAU, told LocalSource that CAU provides in-home supports to families throughout New Jersey.
“We give assistance to both the youth and the family by providing parent and sibling training,” Honig said in April 13 email. “We also work as a team with the family and the case manager to identify the skills that the youth would benefit from learning. CAU also supports hundreds of adults with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
According to Honig, CAU has supervised apartment programs throughout Union County, and that her behavioral team provides support for almost 100 of those individuals residing in CAU’s residential services.
“Every day, CAU advocates for the needs of not only people with autism, but all individuals with different abilities,” Honig said.
Some of CAU’s initiatives, said Honig, include a self-advocacy group called Helping Hands, as well as a social movement called the New American Movement for People with Disabilities, which works to change policy, make legislators aware of the needs of people with disabilities, and fight for equal rights.
“Every member of CAU is encouraged to advocate for themselves, and all staff members at CAU help our members be involved with their community and can provide extra assistance when needed,” Honig said.
Julie and Aneil Chetram, parents of 10-year-old Aiden and members of CAU since January, told LocalSource in a recent phone interview that the work CAU has done with their son has proven remarkable.
Although Aiden, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has been working with the professionals at CAU for just four months, the Chetram’s already see discernable progress.
“They’re working with Aiden and they are taking our input as well,” Julie Chetram said of the CAU behavioral technicians who work with their son. “It’s a very collaborative process. There’s great communication so that everyone is working toward the same exact goal and I think that’s why it’s so effective.”
According to the Chetrams, Aiden has had trouble interacting with his peers in the past, but that things have changed since he joined CAU.
“The fact that my son now wants to interact with other children — that’s already progress,” Julie Chetram said.
The Chetrams also said that Aiden’s issues with reflux and self-biting have improved as well.
“I was floored by how quickly he made progress,” Aneil Chetram said.
Honig said that with the increased prevalence of autism, bringing light to the issue is key.
“This is more important than ever before,” Honig said. “Many people out there have never interacted with someone with Autism. If this is the case, you may be fearful of what to do or how to act. Autism is not something to be afraid of. The more that people are educated on how to respond to someone with autism, the better it will be for all. Autism is something that many have heard of but can’t necessarily define.”
Julie Chetram said that her family feels blessed to have found CAU.
“We’re really blessed to have such well-trained, knowledgeable people working with Aiden,” she said. “They really care about my son on a personal level, and it really shines through. They really want him to succeed.”
For more information about CAU, call 908-354-3040 or visit them online at www.caunj.org.