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Philanthropy advances U’s work on autism spectrum disorders

Twin Cities philanthropists Alfred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison challenged other donors in 2007 to give to the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Initiative at the University of Minnesota by offering a dollar-for-dollar match—up to $1 million. And generous advocates stepped up to the challenge.

With this $2 million in support from the community, the University is moving forward with the ASD Initiative, which aims to:

• recognize the unique and often complex medical needs of children with autism and empower parents to most effectively help their children

• support basic and clinical research programs focused on understanding the causes of autism as well as ways to improve diagnosis and treatment

• coordinate with other community healthcare providers, and

• provide outreach and education programs throughout the region.

Alfred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison

Since the challenge grant was met, the Department of Pediatrics has launched its Clinical Autism Program. This program includes two clinics: the Autism Spectrum and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Clinic, which specializes in comprehensive ASD evaluations and provides parent consultations, and the Primary Care Clinic, which serves as a “medical home” for children with medical issues and ASDs. The clinics share a care coordinator to ensure communication between caregivers and to help connect children and families with appropriate intervention services.

The ASD Initiative also has received a boost from two major grants. A $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Maternal and Child Health Bureau supports the Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities (LEND) program, which trains future leaders who will serve children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. And a $200,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services will fund a research evaluation of a parent-driven model of quality improvement in primary care for children with ASDs.

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