Putting the Pieces Together on Autism

Posted on August 25th, 2014 by Averett

When Dr. Jill Hamlin arrived as Averett’s first Director of Autism Studies in July of 2013, she hit the ground running. Literally.

Autism_pieces_300One of her many initial projects was the Dan River Autism Awareness 5K. She was also the architect of an Autism Awareness Expo hosted at Averett’s North Campus that attracted 20 regional agencies, all dedicated to helping parents, families, caregivers and professionals who have or work with individuals with autism. She has done multiple radio and print interviews to raise awareness of Averett’s signature Autism Studies program, and much more.

And she has no plans to slow down.

Hamlin is all too aware of the challenges presented by recent trends in the field of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The latest figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that one in 68 children now has a diagnosis of ASD – a 30 percent increase in just two years. In 2002, about one in 150 children was considered to have autism, and in 1991 the figure was one in 500.

Despite those sobering statistics, Hamlin remains undaunted. If anything, she is energized by the challenges and is irrepressibly optimistic that Averett will help find answers.

“Averett is blessed to have such a dedicated Board of Trustees and President who are all passionate about the growth of this program,” Hamlin says. “Personally, I feel Averett’s ability to dive into the higher education world as well as utilize the Carrington Autism Resource Center makes its program very distinctive. The benefit also of the program at Averett is its evolutionary capabilities. The university is looking into the future of the program with very objective eyes and matching that future with the needs of the area and the mission of the institution.”

Under Hamlin’s leadership, Averett has put together an impressive multidisciplinary approach to Autism Studies. Part of that approach is using the region as a learning laboratory and creatively intermixing such areas of study as Education, Psychology, Equestrian Studies, the arts and more – all to help students better understand how to work with persons with autism. (Averett’s inventive Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy program is just one of the fruits of this unique approach.) In addition, the university offers training for currently practicing teachers and support resources for parents and caregivers of persons with autism. New undergraduate and graduate-level courses in Autism Studies will be offered face-to-face this fall, and online and face-to-face this spring.

Hamlin is clearly thrilled to be working in a university community that “gets” autism.

“During my time here, I’ve been so pleased with the university’s support of the Autism Studies program and its passion to learn and grow in the understanding and awareness of autism,” she says. “The unique capability Averett University brings to this region is its ability to put multiple pieces of the autism puzzle together. Whether it’s education, training, support, advocacy, research or teaching, Averett can make it happen.”