The FIU Embrace Initiative

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world”
— Mahatma Gandhi

FIU Embrace is a university-wide initiative that promotes health, wellness, and overall functioning for adults with developmental disabilities, such as: autism spectrum disorder (ASD), intellectual disabilities (ID), and other neurodevelopmental disorders (OND). FIU Embrace seeks to help these persons lead healthy lives and maximize individual potential across their lifespan.

Utilizing a person-focused, household-centric approach, and recognizing that people with developmental disabilities deserve to be treated as individuals with personal patterns of talents and challenges; through education and dissemination, services, and research opportunities, the University strives to positively impact the lives of individuals affected by developmental disabilities, their families, and learners.

Upcoming Events

Why FIU Embrace?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 6 children are born with a developmental disability. It is a lifelong condition that has wide-spread implications for health care, education, social services, and the development of familial and social supports. These individuals are at higher risk for multiple health conditions, injuries, exploitation, and poverty.

Moreover, every year some 250 young adults with a diagnosis of autism, a well-known developmental disability, turn 22 years-old in Miami-Dade County. 22 is a milestone year for these adults, as they age out of many publically funded programs (Medicaid services, for example). This results in a loss of continuous care due to the loss of a primary care physician, nursing services received in a Medicaid-funded school program, and home care related services. The consequences that can follow are unsettling: these persons may experience a disruption of services they relied upon since birth. This leads to a troubling transition to adulthood, as health advances which were achieved in childhood are now lost due to lack of services.

FIU Embrace Vision Statement

We imagine a world in which all individuals, no matter their unique patterns of talents and abilities, are valued and meaningfully engaged in their communities.

FIU Embrace Mission

Through leadership and collaboration, FIU Embrace pursues programs and activities that support neurodiverse individuals living healthy lives, maximizing their potential across their lifespans, and being meaningfully engaged in their communities. FIU Embrace will:

  •  Provide educational, medical, and legal services; and support and foster a network of service providers in South Florida
  • Conduct research that leads to evidence-based practices and solves the everyday problems of neurodiverse individuals
  • Advocate for national policy change based upon the data and knowledge acquired through research

Here are the Facts

Rates of developmental disabilities, such as autism, are increasing in Florida. Miami-Dade County is one of 14 sites in the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Project (ADDM). According to ADDM, the prevalence of autism in Miami-Dade County increased 80% from 2006 to 2008 (from 4.0 individuals out of 1,000 to 7.2 out of 1,000). The rate was highest for Hispanics at 8.2 out of 1,000. Almost 40% of individuals diagnosed with autism have significant intellectual impairment, and other comorbidities such as epileptic disorder.

Miami-Dade can anticipate adding at least 100 of these adults to its population every year.

In collaboration with strategic community partners, FIU Embrace will relieve the impact of this growing statistic — by leveraging university expertise and resources to provide continued care, support systems, and development opportunities. Working together with our community, FIU Embrace will drastically and positively change the quality of life for adults with developmental disabilities. Learn how here.

A Message from Our Director

Developmental disabilities is a lot of different things.

It is a complex disorder that can include impairments ranging from mild to severe, and can involve the senses, brain, and/or physical systems that can result, perhaps most visibly, in repetitive behaviors and movements, fixated interest and routines, limitations in self-care, and reduced ability for independent living. The umbrella term, developmental disabilities, is used more generally to refer to conditions such as autism, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, and spina bifida.

However developmental disabilities manifest or are described, the fact remains that many adults here in our Miami-Dade community face, and will continue to face, hardships if provisions are not made to develop our children into independent adults — helping them realize their own unique and valuable contributions to our society.

My own experience into the world of developmental disabilities began some twenty-five years ago when my daughter, Kelly, was born with a rare chromosomal disorder that left her intellectually disabled and visually impaired. In the early years, there were services and supports for Kelly and our family, but as the years passed, the much needed services diminished. Like many families today, I find myself searching for solutions to help her live a productive and fulfilling life.

As the Director of Operations for FIU Embrace, I feel a great sense of responsibility and hope. Responsibility, knowing that the work we have embarked upon can change the lives for many of our families; and hope, that for the first time there is an institution that is utilizing a multi-faceted approach to finding real-life solutions to help our children.

The road is long, but the work ahead is important and deeply meaningful.

Join us.


Nicole Attong, LMHC

Director of Operations, FIU Embrace

Nicole Attong, LMHC

Nicole Attong, LMHC

Director of Operations, FIU Embrace