Nearly one century ago, the now common term "special needs"--used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe an individual's need for assistance with a medical, developmental, or psychological disability--was widely misinterpreted, even among those in the medical field. The early 1900's marked an era riddled with the intolerance of differences, both of mind and body. Thought to be troubled and delinquent, most children with special needs were institutionalized. That is until one psychiatrist believed there was a better way.
Founded in 1924 by Dr. Victor V. Anderson, The Anderson School--as it was known--began with a vision, and just one student. Dr. Anderson knew that children with special needs would greatly benefit from an integrated program that comprehensively addressed their educational, emotional and social needs.
Now, 90 years later, the Staatsburg New York-based not-for-profit goes by the name of Anderson Center for Autism. Its mission is much the same, offering an enriched and positive environment designed to promote growth, independence and social interaction while providing opportunities that enable individuals to make informed choices.
Anderson Center serves some of the most challenged individuals on the autism spectrum. With nearly 800 professionals and staff, and the fifth largest employer in New York's Dutchess County, the center touches 300 lives weekly. A cornerstone of the growing autism community, Anderson Center is gaining significant momentum in actively addressing and responding to the area's growing needs. In 2012, the center released a progressive radio program called "1 in 88"--a staunch reminder of the growing number of children in the United States identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This was one of many steps Anderson Center has taken in rallying the support and aware-ness necessary for change, but it did not begin here. Since the new millennium, Executive Director Neil Pollack and his management team have undertaken an aggressive plan to completely remake Anderson Center, both programmatically and physically.
"The past 13 years [as Executive Director] have been a wonderful and explosive burst of energy as we resurrected the rich history created by Dr. Anderson, using his principles as our foundation for the 21st century evidence-based programs we now provide. Becoming a benchmark agency was a tall order and we have every belief and plan imaginable to make certain Anderson Center remains our nation's go-to agency for services for families addressing autism spectrum disorders," says Pollack.
Just last year, Anderson Center officially opened one of the most comprehensive clinics dedicated to ASD from the Capital Region to the Westchester area. The professionals at The Anderson Center Clinic are highly credentialed and experienced in the provision of services to individuals with ASD, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), screening and diagnosis, occupational and physical therapy, speech therapy, counseling, psychology and psychiatry. Now serving the public beyond the existing residential and school programs, the clinic's beginnings are due in large part to the long awaited state Autism Insurance Law. This law went into effect November 1, 2012 and requires New York State regulated health insurance plans to cover the diagnosis and treatment of ASD in exactly the same way they cover the diagnosis and treatment of physical conditions. This includes any annual or lifetime limitations imposed on dollars spent or visits covered. The law also makes it clear that there are no age restrictions for individuals in need of services. New York was the 29th state to pass the autism insurance legislation--a day countless families had fervently hoped for.
Patrick Paul, Chief Operating Officer, explains: "The law was designed to help families who have individuals with autism obtain the necessary services they deserve. …