New England Center for Children opens research institute

By Phyllis Hanlon
November 1st, 2016

In 1975, the New England Center for Children (NECC) in Southborough was founded to “transform the lives of children with autism worldwide through education, research and technology.” In the ensuing years, NECC has been successful in achieving its mission. So much so that the agency has just completed an $11 million capital campaign that funded the construction of a new research institute, which was completed in August 2016. NECC held a grand opening celebration on October 17, 2016.

The capital campaign for the Autism Institute and Student Center, located on the Southborough campus, launched in 2015 and was co-chaired by John Y. Kim, president/CIO, New York Life, and former governor Michael Dukakis. Kim and his wife, Diane, were also lead donors.

NECC currently has a 123,000 square foot central school facility and 16 residential group homes. The organization employs more than 1,200 staff across all programs, including 160 board certified behavior analysts, 21 professionals with Ph.D. designations and 275 with Master’s level education. Two hundred seventy students are enrolled at the Southborough campus.

Since its inception, NECC has served as a tremendous resource for education and advocacy. “We have published in more than 245 peer reviewed academic journals and have done thousands of presentations around the world at conferences,” said NECC Founder Vincent Strully.

The new building will be a huge step forward for the organization, according to Strully. “It’s a state-of-the-art research complex that is badly needed,” he added. The new space in the Autism Institute is enabling renovation of the old building to allow for a student arts center, library, student store, infirmary, music space, computer lab and vocational training.

Jess Sassi, NECC’s clinical director, explained that, in addition to student space, the new facility will foster research and development. “There will be individual treatment rooms in which to conduct studies,” she said. “We are blessed with researchers, a number of whom are researching assessment and treatment of severe behavioral disorders, which are prevalent in this population. We want to understand what motivates and precipitates the behavior and develop interventions and communication strategies.”

According to Sassi, learning disabilities, which are a component in autism, will be another focus at the Institute. “We will be researching and teaching practices to help students learn more quickly,” she said. “We’ll conduct research on language acquisitions. The new building will allow more space and flexibility for this.”

NECC developed the Autism Curriculum Encyclopedia, which helps children learn new skills. Strully calls the tool an “educational pharmaceutical” and noted that more than 4,120 students at NECC and in public school districts and agencies worldwide use ACE. “We run 40 partner programs with 36 public school districts in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York,” he said. In 2007, NECC opened a school for children with autism in Abu Dhabi; 184 students are currently enrolled there.

“Autism needs have breached the public consciousness and is recognized as a global health problem, but there’s been little focus on millions of children with autism and their families,” said Strully, adding that the new facility is “badly needed and well deserved for our students.”

“NECC is devoted to disseminating the best practices for teaching, dealing with problem behavior and giving skills so that children with autism can live a life of work and citizenship,” Strully noted.

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