NEW BRUNSWICK — We hear much about the crisis of securing a productive future for New Jerseyans on the autism spectrum when they "age out" of their educational entitlement at 21. But the Garden State comes up short on resources available to train those who want to work with these adults toward that goal.

That was at least the thinking behind the 2016 establishment of the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services, headquartered at the university's New Brunswick campus. On Monday, the center is breaking ground on what will eventually be its new home, something Christopher Manente, the center's founding executive director, called an "enormous step forward."

Manente said his team's research has shown that adults with autism spectrum disorder tend to have some of the poorest outcomes of any particular societal group in areas like employment, which he pegged at only a 20% current rate, and social isolation. Yet even taking that into account, adult services have understandably taken a back seat to services for children, to the point where many would-be practitioners are not even aware that helping adults could be a career path.

Rutgers, according to Manente, is the first university to devote so much time and effort toward supporting adults with autism, and those whose job it is to support them.

"Our center is really devoted to finding solutions to this bigger problem. We're not just a service provision agency," he said. "We have a commitment to direct service, training future practitioners, and disseminating research related to evidence-based and effective practices."

When completed, the new facility will feature a professional kitchen, recreational and common areas, and spaces for vocational and life skills teaching and training.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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