When the United Nations declared the first World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd, 2007, NEXT for AUTISM was already four years old. We had opened the NYC Autism Charter School, our first model program, and we were actively tackling the lack of quality services for individuals with autism and their families. We were then, and still are today, an impatient organization seeking change and always asking, “What’s next for people with autism?” We’ve launched seven additional initiatives since, all with notable partners, all with an eye towards improving outcomes and innovating services for the autism community. Our journey to date was perfectly bookended last fall with the opening of a second autism charter school in the Bronx.
As NEXT for AUTISM celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, I’ve been reflecting on the fundamental themes that cut across every aspect of our work. I’d like to share a few of those themes with you. I believe they ground us in our purpose and are our compass as we look towards the future.
Empowerment and Independence
From the very beginning, NEXT for AUTISM has empowered individuals with autism at every life stage. Our programs strive to provide them with effective supports, whether they are practicing the important tasks of daily life or learning job skills that lead to meaningful employment. We hope that the independence and skills that they acquire in our programs will enable them to live joyful, fulfilling, and productive lives to the best of their personal abilities. Empowerment also extends to families. Our programs work with them to put information in their hands, so that they can support their loved ones in selecting the best possible options. The programs embrace this view – that in order to serve individuals with autism, we must also equip their families to support and advocate for and with them.
Individual joy depends to a great extent on the feeling of belonging, not only to one’s family, but also to one’s community. This is a guiding theme in our work. At NEXT for AUTISM, we believe that people with autism should be visible, engaged members of their communities, because we know that each of them has a great deal to contribute. In our programs, we provide individuals with the tools to learn social skills and life skills, and to participate in shared activities with their wider community. By design, we intend these opportunities to lead to mutual learning and understanding that enrich and expand the entire community.
There is still much work to be done to empower individuals and families, and to affect systemic change. Programs like Project SEARCH Autism Enhancement, our employment training initiative that is rolling out across the country, and NEXT for NEIGHBORS, our community living model for adults opening this fall, represent our drive to create opportunities and choice for people with autism. Each of these programs has been done in partnership with other organizations to leverage their strengths and widen our impact.
We are fortunate that you, our community, have steadfastly supported us and fueled our remarkable path for the last 15 years. With your continued faith, we hope to chart the future together. Please join us in recognizing World Autism Awareness Day, and donate here to make our shared vision a reality.
With gratitude on behalf of our Board of Directors and Staff,
President and Co-Founder