The History of The Autism Project
The Autism Project has evolved significantly since 1997, but our core identity remains the same: we are a collaboration of parents, professionals, and community members dedicated to providing high-quality and accessible support, training, and programming for children, their families, and the professionals who work with them.
Though we focus on children and youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), we've also learned over the years that many of the supports and strategies that work well for children with ASD can be beneficial for all. Today, The Autism Project offers services and programs for children with ASD, developmental delays and disabilities, and social-emotional challenges, and their families and communities.
Early Years: The RI Autism Project, Inc.
The RI Autism Project, Inc. (our original name) started with a group of special educators, therapists, and parents of children with ASDs, who came together over a shared concern about the lack of resources and programming available to children with ASDs in Rhode Island.
In response to this concern, in early 1997, The Autism Society of Rhode Island formed an ad hoc committee of parents, therapists, administrators, autism specialists, union representatives, and members of the medical and Early Intervention communities. The result was a request for funding through the Rhode Island Department of Education's Office of Special Needs.
For three years, the Rhode Island Department of Education awarded a grant to the RI Autism Project through a fiscal agent, East Greenwich Public Schools. As the Project gained momentum, it quickly became clear that a single source of funding would be inadequate to meet growing needs. The Autism Project incorporated in 2000 and began looking for alternative sources of funding to support its work.
Funding through the Rhode Island Department of Education ended in September 2001. Recognizing the importance of providing a statewide coordinator for autism, TAP’s only full-time paid employee became a state employee under the Rhode Island Technical Assistance Program (RITAP) at Rhode Island College.
Executive Director Joanne Quinn was hired in 2002 to grow the business into an independent non-profit organization. The Autism Project continued to offer training and support to school districts and education to professionals and parents through a variety of mediums, including demonstration classrooms, consultation, a parent training series and a National Speaker Conference.
In the last seventeen years, The Autism Project has expanded to offer multiple levels of parent and professional training, social skills groups for all abilities, consultation and coaching for educators in public schools and community organizations, a summer camp, peer navigation and support, and advocacy. Today our programming supports all children in their development of emotional regulation, problem-solving, executive function skills, resiliency and self-worth.
The strategies and supports that benefit a child with an ASD can benefit all children.
Now & In the Future
Thanks to grants from HRSA and SAMHSA, The Autism Project has also expanded services in recent years to include support, training, and peer navigation for children with developmental delays or diagnosed disabilities and their families. TAP's master-level coaches added work to support professionals and families in their development of their own social-emotional learning that will benefit all children, especially those with communication, regulation, and other social-emotional challenges in addition to ASD.
TAP is always striving to expand our ability to provide accessible programming; in the past several years, we have created online training offerings, staffed Family Support Specialists to work with families in communities in Rhode Island's core cities, forged new partnerships with family-focused organizations, and hired three staff members who are fluent in at least one other language.
Our social skills programming remains the largest and most consistent in the state and we provide a safe, therapeutic space for children, teens, young adults and their families to come and learn, connect, practice and feel supported.
As we continue to evolve, The Autism Project will retain our collaborative, education-based approach as our services and programming continue to evolve. Priorities for coming years include exploring services and programming for adults with ASDs and further increasing our capacity to serve families and professionals, especially medical professionals, in medically underserved communities in our state.