Eden II Programs still the place families turn to for autism support

As Eden II Programs celebrates its 25th anniversary with the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, numbers show just how things have changed. So, while autism rates have increased nationwide, the Stapleton school has been there for years helping the person with autism achieve his or her full potential.

“Since I started as the exec, we were a $2M company. And we’re a $32M company today. And our growth is always adjusted by the need,” said Dr. Joanne Gerenser, who has been executive director at Eden II for about 27 years.

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed approximately 1 in 59 children (1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls) is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Gerenser said when she was appointed executive director, that number was 1 in 2,500.

While that number has seen a monumental change, one thing that has remained the same is Eden II Programs has continued to be a place for families to turn to when a loved one is diagnosed with autism.

“There’s a couple of things that distinguishes us. One, we’re a program that serves kids across the lifespan,” said Dr. Gerenser. “Autism can be a very challenging disorder. And for most, it’s a disorder they have for the rest of their lives. It’s very difficult, particularly as the kids turn 21 and they leave the school system to be able to find the supports. For us, when you enter our program, you can be supported for the rest of your life.

“And the other thing is we use a methodology called ABA – Applied Behavior Analysis – which is essentially the proven, effective treatment for kids on the spectrum. And we’ve been doing it for 40 years,” she added.

While Eden II provides support for families, Dr. Gerenser said she decided to join the Chamber for support from the community.

“I always recognize Staten Island is a small community and it’s about making connections and knowing your local businesses. It’s been exactly what we hoped it would be,” said Dr. Gerenser.

“We’re a school for kids with autism so we don’t really need any business. There’s just so many kids with autism,” she said. “For me, it’s been largely about helping us network to be able to raise funds and support the program and helping us build connections when we need something done and make sure it’s a local business person.

“We’ve also used the Chamber a lot to help us network to get some of our participants opportunities to volunteer and learn how to work in actual businesses,” she said.

Since there is no medical detection for autism, Dr. Gerenser said early detection is key and Eden II Programs will keep informing the community about the disorder.  

“The problem with an autism diagnosis is it’s not about what young children are doing like stuttering. It’s what they’re not doing. For example, they’re not responding to their name or they’re not looking up when you enter the room. People don’t notice that,” she said.

“We’re still getting kids diagnosed far too late,” said the executive director. “There’s so much we can do now. All we can keep doing is have the training and the workshops and that kind of stuff to get the community more aware.”

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