Photo of Gerard Costa.

Five Years of Autism Research and Services

Photo: Gerard Costa

In its first five years, the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health at Montclair State University has brought in more than $7 million in grants and other funding to support its mission of offering professional development, education, clinical services, community programs and research opportunities in the areas of autism, infant and childhood development, and early childhood mental health in New Jersey.

The Center also serves as the statewide clearinghouse, coordinating autism research and treatment projects throughout New Jersey funded by the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism.

“The most rewarding outcome of the past five years is being able to serve a central role in advancing knowledge of and directing attention to autism and early childhood mental health in the state,” says Gerard Costa, director of the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health.

Since its first award of a five-year, $1.5 million grant in 2012, the Center, in that clearinghouse role, was designated by the state Department of Health as the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence (NJACE) Coordinating Center. The original award increased to over $3 million as more research sites were funded and in December 2016, the Center — which currently supports 25 clinical research projects and five autism medical homes — received its latest supplemental installment of $437,078 and was asked to serve an additional year as the NJACE Coordinating Center, through June 2018.

The Center is anchored in a multidisciplinary, developmental approach designed to meet the needs of infants, children and their families, and is supported by theoretical, research-based methods and clinical application. Its numerous multidisciplinary programs and services include a clinic for families from pregnancy to age 12; a Center-created infant mental health curriculum; and a school-based, early childhood mental health promotion program.

Center staff and affiliate faculty members offer consultation services, seminars, workshops and training sessions for schools, community agencies, health care facilities and other organizations regarding autism spectrum disorder and infant/early childhood mental health.

In addition, the Center is the only authorized U.S. provider of Zippy’s Friends, an international school-based mental health promotion curriculum for 5- to 7-year-olds offered in 28 countries and endorsed by the World Health Organization.

In April, the Center hosted its second statewide autism summit, titled “Meeting of the Minds and Honoring Diversity in Research,” where researchers presented some of the work being conducted through grants from the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism.