NEWARK, N.J. – Today, in observance of Autism Awareness Month, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) hosted a group of New Jersey’s leaders in the Autism community for a roundtable discussion in his office. The meeting served as an open conversation to strategize on steps to follow after recent legislative victories for children with Autism and their families.

Lively conversation surfaced between the Senator and participants regarding: Increasing Autism research and awareness on a national and local level, early intervention techniques and diagnosis tools, and new innovative programs geared towards opening employment opportunities for individuals with autism.

Vowing to continue leading the charge in Congress on behalf of those with autism and their families, Sen. Menendez said:  "I'm so pleased that we were able to assemble this important brain trust of community leaders in one room to discuss next steps in our shared fight against autism. As evidenced by today’s roundtable, there’s still much to be done on the national and local levels. We have to remain united in finding new diagnosis and treatment breakthroughs, all while ensuring New Jerseyan families continue to have the tools they need to understand and manage this increasingly prevalent affliction in our state.”

According to a recent report by the CDC, autism rates climbed nearly 30% between 2008 and 2010, to 1 in 68 children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, from 1 in 88 children. In New Jersey, that prevalence is 1 in 49 children.

Sharon Levine, Director, Governmental Affairs, The Arc Of New Jersey said:  "The Arc of New Jersey thanks Senator Menendez for his ongoing support and leadership on behalf of people with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. As the number of individuals with autism continues to rise in New Jersey, it is critical that decision-makers partner with stakeholders to develop appropriate programs and opportunities that will best serve the autism community and their families. We know Senator Menendez will continue fighting on behalf of these individuals and so we urge his colleagues in Congress to join him, not only during Autism Awareness Month, but throughout the year on these important issues."

Peter Bell, President & CEO of Eden Autism Services said: "The significance of Autism Awareness Month is boosted by the support our community has received from many Congressional champions including Senator Menendez," "No matter how we choose to recognize autism during April, the important thing to remember is that we work toward a world that understands what autism is, what can be done to make living with it easier, and how important it is for individuals with autism to live life with dignity, purpose and respect.” 

Madeleine Goldfarb, Founder/Executive Director of Noah’s Ark Institute said: “As the numbers of children diagnosed with autism in New Jersey and around the country rise seemingly without end we must prepare our communities for the reality of a day when thousands upon thousands of adults with autism will need support, employment, housing and love.  We are woefully unprepared, as this day is now here.  Senator Menendez has been a tireless leader in providing the support and governance we need to pave the way for a future  in which every adult with autism finds a place of value and dignity.” 

Gail Levinson, Executive Director of The Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey said: “We look forward to continuing to work with Senator Menendez to secure additional opportunities for people living on the autism spectrum and with other special needs, in housing and supportive services.”

 Nishith Parikh, CEO, WebTeam Corporation said: "My positive experience in hiring people with Autism has further proven the notion that it's not about what corporate American can do for people on the spectrum- it's about what the people on the spectrum can do for corporate America."

Senator Menendez has become the leading advocate in Congress for individuals with autism and their families, having authored the Autism Coordination, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act, also known as the Autism CARES Act, which was signed into law on August 8, 2014. Additionally, he secured the passage of the 2011 reauthorization of the Combating Autism Act, and also authored the Assistance in Gaining Experience, Independence and Navigation (AGE-IN) Act to address the needs of youth and young adults as they transition out of school-based support to independent adulthood.

 The following leaders were among Senator Menendez’s Autism roundtable participants:

  •          Peter Bell, President, Eden Autism Services
  •          Gerald Franklin,
  •          B. Madeleine Goldfarb, Founder/Executive Director, Noah’s Ark Institute
  •          Amy Gravino, Asperger's Syndrome College Coach, A.S.C.O.T Coaching, LLC
  •          Daniel J. Keating, Ph.D, Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities, Executive Director
  •          Sharon Levine, Director, Governmental Affairs, The Arc Of New Jersey
  •          Gail Levinson, Executive Director, The Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey
  •          Leslie Long, Vice President of Adult Services, Autism Speaks
  •          Melanie McGackin, Coordinator of Training and Education, Autism Family Services of New Jersey
  •          Janet Mino, Teacher, Newark Public Schools/ /President, The Valentine Center
  •          Stephanie V. Newman, Executive Director, Special Counsel
  •          Nishith Parikh, CEO WebTeam Corporation
  •          Barbara Strate, Parent Advocate
  •          Denise A. Smallacomb, Assistant Superintendent, Morris-Union Jointure Commission
  •          Jessica Toledano, Director, Adult Resources, Reed Academy
  •          Vimal Verma, TheSpectrumCareers.Com
  •          Walter Zahorodny, PhD, Director, New Jersey Autism Study, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  •          Jonah Zimiles, Managing Principal, Words Bookstore
  •          Tracey Gray-Walker, Parent Advocate