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University Names Director of Autism Studies

July 3, 2013

Averett University is excited to announce that we have appointed Dr. Jill Hamlin as director of our autism studies program, effective July 1.

"Jill Hamlin brings to Averett the unique combination of qualities we've been seeking in a director," said Averett President Dr. Tiffany Franks. "She has a keen intellect and excellent leadership skills as well as firsthand experience in the field of autism both on the academic and clinical levels. And she has contagious passion for the cause of autism. With Dr. Hamlin's appointment, Averett's vision of establishing a signature program in autism studies has become a reality."

Hamlin most recently served as a licensed occupational therapist at Piedmont Regional Feeding & Oral-Motor Clinic (PRFC), LLC, a speech, feeding and swallowing therapy clinic in Danville. From 2007 until 2012, Hamlin was an adjunct professor in Averett's autism certificate program, developing the curricula for the University's state-approved program and teaching both undergraduate and graduate level courses.

"I am very excited about the potential this position has to impact the local community and the surrounding area," said Hamlin. "There are so many families, students and teachers affected by this disorder across the region. I am ready for the challenge to find the specific needs of this area and to create a detailed action plan to meet those needs."

Now that the director's position is filled, Averett can begin expanding its educational opportunities for students at the undergraduate and graduate levels by providing a "learning laboratory" in areas such as education, psychology, equestrian studies, the arts and more to help students better understand how to work with persons with autism. The University will also be able to offer increased training for currently practicing teachers and support resources for parents and caregivers of persons with autism.

In Virginia, one child in 110 is diagnosed with autism, one of the highest rates in the nation. In southern Virginia, the rate is even higher.

Early on, Averett saw the profound effect autism was having on families and teachers in the region, and began to create programs to help meet the challenge. In 2008, the University began offering an autism certificate training program for teachers who work with autistic children. A year later, Averett was approved by the Virginia Autism Council (VAC) to issue a certificate of training in autism spectrum disorders. In the fall of 2011, Averett began offering courses in equine-assisted psychotherapy through its equestrian program, and opened the Carrington Autism Resource Center.

The University was able to begin its search for a director of autism studies thanks to a lead matching gift offered by a Trustee who wishes to remain anonymous. Other major donors making matching gifts have included the Alexander Berkeley Carrington, Jr. and Ruth Simpson Carrington Charitable Trust, the Dan River Region and Infinity Global Packaging.

"This is all a testimony to the passion and generosity of Averett University's Trustees, area foundations and friends, without whom our autism studies program would never have been possible," said Franks. "We simply cannot say thank you enough to these great friends and supporters."