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February 17, 2016

Drexel gets $3.5M anonymous donation to support autism research

Pilot programs will focus on helping young people transition from high school to adulthood

Autism Research
Drexel University Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Drexel University

Drexel has received an anonymous gift of $3.5 million to create pilot programs that will help young Philadelphians with autism, the university announced Wednesday.

The money will go toward a program called "Transition Pathways," which aims to ensure that no one falls through the cracks when they transition from high school to independent adulthood. The school will be able to test different ways of supporting young autistic people, focusing on efforts that are both affordable and effective on a large scale.

Prospects for autistic people are "bleak" after high school, noted Dr. Paul Shattuck, director of Drexel's Life Course Outcomes Program. A report from his program found that only 58 percent of autistic people in the U.S. have ever had a paying job, and a little more than a third have attended college or vocational schools.

It was this report that inspired an unnamed donor to grant the money to Drexel's Autism Institute. The first program will begin in September with 16 participants, most of them seniors from Philadelphia schools.

Participants can enter the Work Pathway, involving internships, or the College Pathway, where they can audit Drexel courses. Students in both pathways will receive intense support for two years, including training in social skills and independent living.

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