Q&A with Beth Ciardi

By Mike Costanza

Director of Golisano Autism Center talks about her nonprofit and its work

The Golisano Autism Center brings 12 local nonprofits, including AutismUp, CP Rochester and the Al Sigl Community of Agencies, together under one roof to provide services for those who have autism and their families.

The neurological disorder, which is clinically referred to as autism spectrum disorder, can affect the mental, emotional and physical functioning of an adult or child, resulting in a variety of symptoms. While some who have autism can live fully independently, others require full-time care and support.

Though the GAC has but two full-time and one part-time employee, through its efforts 130 staff and volunteers collaborate to serve about 2,300 individuals and families each year.

In Good Health spoke to Beth Ciardi, the Golisano Autism Center’s director, about her nonprofit and its work.

Q: What is autism spectrum disorder?

A: Autism spectrum disorder is a neurologically based developmental disorder that can present with difficulties in social interaction, communication challenges, intellectual disabilities, gross and fine motor delays, sensory impairments and medical issues. It varies widely in severity and symptoms and lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. The earliest signs of autism typically occur during the first three years of life and may develop gradually.

Q: What makes autism a spectrum disorder?

A: Autism being a spectrum disorder means people can have varying abilities and support needs. One third of autistic people also have an intellectual disability. Some have high support needs, which may mean that they require full time care and support. Some people may need a bit of support with day-to-day activities, while others live fully independent lives. With proper support and creative opportunities, most people with autism live fulfilling lives.

Q: Does ASD present itself in other ways?

A: Those who have ASD often experience sensory sensitivities and medical issues, such as gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, or sleep issues, as well as such mental health challenges as anxiety, depression, and attention and learning issues.

Q: How many adults and children are on the autism spectrum?

A: It is estimated that more than 10,000 individuals have an autism diagnosis in Monroe County and that one in 44 children in the US has been diagnosed with autism. It is more common in males than in females and occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socio-economic groups.

Q: How does GAC support people with autism and their families?

A: The Golisano Autism Center has transformed the delivery of autism services in the region by providing a comprehensive, enriched and innovative model that co-locates and coordinates resources offered by multiple providers who are experts in their specific autism service areas. It is a national model for support and a gateway to high-quality, person-centered and sustainable supports and services.

Q: What kinds of clients does GAC serve?

A: We primarily serve individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, particularly autism, and their families. Autism is a lifelong disability and our collaborative partner providers currently serve those ranging from children who are 12 months old to aging adults.

Q: Can you tell us of some of the services that GAC provides through its collaborators for those with autism and their families?

A: GAC provides a continuum of services that span a lifetime and offer a full array of coordinated program options for infants, toddlers, youth, teens and adults. These include early intervention, preschool and childcare services, an outpatient clinic, behavioral and primary care supports, and respite services. GAC also offers care management, community habilitation, social, recreational and therapeutic services and transition age programs. Clients can also obtain assistance with housing and employment.

Q: GAC also has a family and peer navigation program. Can you give us some details of that program?

A: GAC’s Family and Peer Navigation program is collaborating with AutismUp to empower autistic individuals and their families to overcome the challenges and barriers they face to reach their full potential. The program provides individual support services, along with educational and training workshops specific to autism. Our family navigator is a parent of an autistic child and our peer navigator is an autistic adult. The support they provide is coming from a compassionate place of somebody who has knowledge of the systems that are navigated once receiving an autism diagnosis and the different types of services one can receive here inside of the GAC or out in the community.

Q: What kinds of challenges does GAC face right now?

A: There are still many who are unaware of what we do and that we are here to help. The autistic population consists of people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. The intersectionalities are vast and ensuring inclusivity for all who are neurodiverse is crucial to social change.

Q: How will GAC solve that problem?

A: Opportunities for community outreach are essential to informing the public about us and is why we appreciate the feature in In Good Health. In addition, information about our Autism HelpLine is posted throughout Monroe County and is another way individuals and families can connect with us.

For more information on the Golisano Autism Center, go to: https://www.golisanoautismcenter.org