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2020 – The Year of Living Virtually 

By Merrick Egber

2020 has been quite a year for us all at the Els for Autism Foundation, especially with the COVID-19 crisis, but we’ve been able to show that our model of success is through positive messaging and adaptations. Here is our 2020 at a glance.

Our experience with digital conferencing platforms pre-pandemic allowed us to meet the challenges of the virtual environment head-on. Els for Autism offered several Telehealth services so that families of children with autism don’t get left behind, such as speech and language therapy, mental health counseling, RUBI parent training, behavior therapy, and even tele-diagnostic services.

Our team shifted live programs to virtual offerings and created different types of recreation services, including new ones like our Spectrum Book Club and the Connections Club for Teens and Adults. These programs were created to make sure that individuals with autism didn’t feel lonely by having others to connect with regularly. A number of new virtual Adult Services such as Daily Living Skills, were tailored to keep our clients socially active and seeking the help they need, whether it be employment or mental health.

You can find our current Virtual Programs here.

We’ve also worked on greater outreach to the community. Our Fore Autism! Podcast – (also on Spotify), which is now nine episodes long, generates news and information about the Foundation and the overall community. 

On social media, we hosted interviews and conferencing on Facebook and Instagram Live, which allowed us to engage with our clients and supporters in a new way.

One of our greatest new initiatives this year is our partnership with the Autism Science Foundation for the Sam’s Sibs Stick Together initiative. Samantha Els is leading the way in support for siblings of individuals with autism with webinars, weekly support groups, and a website with resources.

We welcomed five new Advisory Board Members, who are delighted to join us when we host our Autism Innovations and Global Impact Conference: Building a Neurodiverse Workforce –, which will run from March 12-13th in 2021. With final planning underway, the schedule and speakers confirmed include Dr. Temple Grandin as keynote and Ernie and Liezl Els giving their opening welcome.

Still, we hope to make a greater impact on the education of others about autism, in general. We’ve produced a series of new webinars, including new Continuing Education Webinars for behavior analysts. We also translated a variety of our core webinars into Spanish, Portuguese and Italian with some being translated into Arabic for 2021 . 

As of now, we are slowly converting our webinars to be for viewing on our YouTube channel so that everyone can watch!

On the research side, we are tracking the status of our two research papers pending publication and one in progress:

  1. Virtual Program Impact study-Collaboration between Els for Autism and University of Miami CARD- manuscript completed and submitted for publication
  2. RUBI Parent Training Virtual program study-manuscript reviewed by Dr. Karen Bearss and submitted for publication
  3. The Seaver Els Institute Spring into Action study- data collected and analyzed; manuscript in progress with completion timeline for publication April 2020

Lastly, not everything we can do can be completely virtual. To that extent, we re-opened our campus on June 1, 2020, following the best evidence-based practices, systematic policies and procedures, and protocols for staff, clients, visitors who all have been vetted for entrance to our Foundation. Our two charter schools, The Learning Center (TLC) and The Learning Academy (TLA), also reopened on September 21st for greater educational experiences while still offering online classes as an option.

Since we re-opened our campus, we’ve unleashed a new job training alteration of our “Work Experience Program” with #WERFOODIES Food Services which allows our Work Experience team to learn about fulfilling occupational requirements while selling food to customers and staff each week. Past partnerships have included Loggerhead Marina, PGA National Resort and Spa and Jupiter Medical. You can follow them on Facebook here. 

All in all, we’ve shown our remarkable resilience and adaptive skills in the face of a national health crisis, to keep on providing care and support to those who definitely do need it. While we’ve had to do things differently, it has not stopped us from fulfilling our dreams and desires for the future, in fact, it hasn’t dimmed them one bit! And, if anything, even if COVID-19 may have kept many of us apart, we’ve devised ways to, perhaps, bring us together even more, of course within the appropriate guidelines.

Here is to 2021 being a better year for us, than this one! 

Thanks to everyone who has made this Foundation an existent ray of hope in such an uncertain time!