TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Alabama Department of Mental Health recently named The University of Alabama a Regional Autism Network site.
With this distinction, UA becomes one of five autism resource hubs in the state.
The resource hubs are established for individuals affected by autism, their families and other agencies. Through the service, those with questions may contact UA to learn about assistance available in West Alabama.
“Even if the resource is not available at the University, the network will be able to direct them to somebody in the community and create those community ties so that somebody in the community can hopefully meet the need of that family,” said Dr. Sarah Ryan, administrative director of autism services at UA.
People seeking assistance may phone the UA Regional Autism Network resource hub at 205-348-3131.
In 2009, the state passed legislation outlining the function of the Regional Autism Network, or RAN. Over the past two years, with the support of multiple state legislators, the network has received funding to begin serving families.
The RAN launched in 2016, and UA joins Auburn University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of South Alabama and the University of Alabama in Huntsville as RAN resource hubs.
The idea for the network developed through the efforts of the Alabama Interagency Autism Coordinating Council, or AIACC, run by state Sen. Cam Ward.
The statewide network is based on similar centers in Florida, but not all states have such a network. The Alabama Department of Mental Health targeted the five major public universities in the state to serve as resource hubs so they could access resources within the universities as well as the community.
In 2016, UAB, USA and Auburn were funded as hubs. UA and UAH were added this year to cover all five regions. The goal is for families and others who want assistance to call for anything they need, such as training for agencies or consultation services.
There are state agencies, individual providers, families and self-advocates that serve on the AIACC. In conjunction with the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the council decided to locate the resource hubs within the state’s major universities.
Most universities have a representative on the council, and Ryan says the universities were chosen because they were active in the autism community.
“I sit on the council, and several other representatives from the universities who sit on the council are providers, so it made sense,” said Ryan.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.