Melmark New England

By Cancro, Lorraine | The Exceptional Parent, July 2009 | Go to article overview

Melmark New England


Cancro, Lorraine, The Exceptional Parent


Melmark New England is a private, nonprofit, community based organization dedicated to serving children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders, acquired brain injury, neurological diseases and disorders, and severe challenging behaviors. The Melmark parent corporation, a Pennsylvania based provider of services for those with developmental disabilities, had its inception in 1966. The original program primarily served children with Down syndrome.

Melmark New England was initiated in 1998, as a division of Melmark, Inc., when Dr. Joanne Gillis-Donovan, President and Chief Executive Officer, met with Peter Troy, VP of Melmark New England, and started to put together, with Rita Gardner, Executive Director and Frank Bird, VP and Chief Clinical Officer, the concept of developing Massachusetts programs to serve children in New England.

The program started in a leased office park space in Woburn, MA but announced a planned move to Andover in 2003. The move would ultimately take more than three years, as the school worked on fundraising, site, and construction issues. There were other programs in Massachusetts, at that time but the idea was to take what Melmark, Inc. had done wonderfully and provide those best services and target them to children with autism spectrum disorders among other neurological disorders. That meant developing a sophisticated clinical and educational system that would serve very complex and challenging individuals.

In speaking with Rita Gardner, Executive Director of Melmark New England, about why this program is among one of the best schools for educating children on the autism spectrum. Gardner states, "Massachusetts provides some of the best care in the nation for children with autism, but the system is strained, which forces parents to advocate more vigorously than ever for support. The greatest challenge is trying to obtain the services you know your child needs. A decade ago, it took a few months to get a child into Melmark New England. Now, the wait can be five years. These waiting lists indicate the explosion in the number of children with autism."

Nationwide federal health authorities say that 1 in every 150 children has some form of autism; a sharp increase over past estimates. The rates vary state to state. Massachusetts has now reached a total of 1 in 130.

What Makes Melmark New England Stand Out

Melmark New England serves children on the autism spectrum who cannot attend public schools due to the complexity of their needs. The Melmark program uses an interdisciplinary team approach based on the principles of applied behavioral analysis (ABA). Melmark looks to partner with families and collaborate to create services that will meet the specific needs of their children. "We look to build a relationship with the family that we hope will greatly improve their lives," Gardner said. The students' welfare as well as reaching their highest level of functioning is paramount.

Gardner states, "The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is the regulatory body that licenses our school and residential/education program. They evaluate that regulatory requirements are met in all private schools. Our very recent review results were exemplary as we had no reported deficiencies. Performing well in such a review means that, on a daily basis, we operate the program within the framework of the state regulations. But, what was most important to us, is that DESE recognized that in many areas Melmark provided commendable services well above the regulatory requirements, resulting in exemplary services to our students and families."

Melmark New England provides comprehensive special education, access to a clinical treatment facility and encourages full family participation in the planning and implementation of a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP). The education is tailored to fit the specific needs of each student. …

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