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University Communications

July 22, 2010

La Salle University Receives $100,000 Grant From Widener Foundation to Help Families with Special Needs Children

La Salle University has received a $100,000 grant from the Widener Foundation to provide services and resources to families of children with special medical, physical, and emotional needs enrolled at the Widener Memorial School in Philadelphia, a school for children with special needs.

The grant will be directed to the La Salle Autism and Developmental Disabilities Education Resources (LADDER) Family Center.  During the past three years, an interdisciplinary team of faculty has been working to provide an array of courses for educators and programs that will lead to improved services for children with special needs and their families.

“What’s great about the Widener Foundation grant is that it will be used for resources and technology for the children, so it’s going to have a direct impact on them,” said Dr. Margaret McManus, Associate Dean for the School of Arts and Science at La Salle. “This is the first grant for the LADDER Center, and while we’ve been offering courses regarding special needs and autism, we hope this grant will be the first that will enable the Center to expand its services.”

A key aspect of the LADDER Center is its holistic approach – the entire family, not just the child with special needs, receives assistance from a variety of specialists.

“La Salle has a long history and tradition of supporting children with special needs, especially through its undergraduate dual major in Elementary/Special Education,” said Dr. Harris Lewin, Director of Graduate Programs in Education at La Salle. “The University has a dynamic, multi-disciplinary faculty -- education, psychology, social work, speech-language-hearing -- which in keeping with the tradition and teachings of St. John Baptist de La Salle, educates our students to help and support families facing the challenges of children in need of special care.”

Dr. Carole Patrylo, a professor of education at La Salle, said,  “In the last five years, there has been a broadened public awareness and also advances regarding autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The impact on the family with a child diagnosed with ASD has brought the attention to varied disciplines.”

“The LADDER initiative will open doors to working with and better understanding the uniqueness of the situation with a focus on the family,” said Patrylo, who directs a summer program for children with special needs and their families.

Dr. Donna Tonrey, Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at La Salle, said, “An often overlooked concern for families with special needs children is the strain that is placed on other aspects of family life. The LADDER program, along with the many other resources at La Salle, will assist greatly in the multi-disciplinary approach to helping families. This is what the LADDER Center is hoping to provide -- services that help the couple strengthen their relationship, as well as the family system and all the relationships within it.”

This integrated structure will enable the LADDER Family Center to assist families of children with special medical, physical. and emotional care needs who face complex challenges on a daily basis. The Center will provide expert, direct support and coordination of services to children with disabilities and families who are raising children with special medical and educational needs.

The Center will also provide practical accessibility to programs, coordination of needed services and direct therapeutic support to families of children and teens who face individual and unique problems.  These services offered through the LADDER Family Center will help families understand and deal with a child’s diagnosis, help choose the best possible health care providers, support interagency services and meetings, and provide direct services on an individual family case-by-case basis.

The Widener Memorial Foundation in aid of handicapped children was founded in 1902 by Peter A. B. Widener.  In 1941, the school joined with the Philadelphia Board of Education's Martin Orthopedic School and has since been governed by a joint committee representing the Widener Trustees and the Board of Education. Grants are for those organizations located in the greater Delaware Valley area (Philadelphia and surrounding counties).