Southborough center leading worldwide autism treatment
By Erika Steele, Contributing Writer
Southborough – Since 1974, The New England Center for Children (NECC) in Southborough has provided education and individualized treatment for children with autism, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger’s Syndrome. Chief Executive Officer, who was one of the founders, Vincent Strully Jr. was instrumental in making the organization a success.
“From a very young age, I was always interested in politics and social issues like civil rights,” said Strully, who has been working directly with children and adults with autism and related disorders for 41 years.
His first experience with autism was in the five years following his graduation from Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y., in 1969, when he worked as a residential child care worker with 9- to 11-year-olds. Those years inspired him to find a way to create a systematic program that would treat individuals with developmental disabilities.
He fostered that aspiration at the Spaulding Youth Center in New Hampshire. Three years later, Strully and a few associates aimed to do more and, when an initiative of the state administration in Massachusetts prompted the passing of the Chapter 766 Special Education Law, they jumped at the opportunity.
“The state had put out a number of requests for proposals to establish mini-schools around the state for children with autism who at that time were unserved,” said Strully, who used the model at Spaulding to sell the NECC project to the Department of Education and Department of Mental Health.
After winning the competitive bid process to set up on the grounds of the Taunton State Hospital, Strully and his associates went to work. In its inaugural year, the NECC served 20 kids.
Strully recalled the early years. “Some of the original students were found at that hospital, others were living at home, but in many cases, the parents were having a nightmarish problem dealing with their children who were being untreated at the time,” he said.
Almost four decades later, Southborough hosts the NECC’s “mother ship” building that acts as the center of resources for 18 group homes around the area and 1,400 kids around the world.
The NECC team’s tireless efforts have made it internationally recognized leader in autism intervention, research, and professional development. Now in seven foreign countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Taiwan, England, and Brazil, plans are in place to expand programs to New Deli and India to help serve the 13 million individuals with autism.
Behind its 900 employees and state-of-the-art Autism Curriculum Encyclopedia (ACE) software – a virtual toolbox for teachers of everything NECC uses to teach children with autism — Strully is excited for what the future holds.
“Thirty years ago people didn’t know what we were doing or why,” he said. “Now we have the awareness and means to go wherever we can successfully present our work and get an interest. We want to help thousands more kids.”
At the NECC, Strully directs all aspects of clinical and financial administration, program development, fundraising, facility design, and strategic planning; however, his main goal is continued outreach.
“We’ve become a real think tank, a research center,” he said. “I want to keep building the program by working with school districts to provide any kind of training and consultation that they may need.”
NECC researchers have published more than 200 studies in peer-reviewed academic journals and presented over 1,000 papers at professional conferences around the world. Since 1987, more than 1,000 NECC employees have completed master’s degrees in one of three onsite programs funded by the center. Many are now working in the community to carry on the NECC mission.
“The NECC is a great example of social entrepreneurship and a public-private partnership that has tremendously benefited the economy,” he said.
The NECC recently held its seventh annual 5k Walk/Run for Autism in May at which over 1,300 people attended.
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