Qualified yet unemployed. The plight of adults with intellectual disabilities.

Employment Conference to show how many companies are leveraging ‘The Overlooked Workforce’, March 12, FIU

The American unemployment rate is at record low levels. That is, except for adults with intellectual disabilities. As a group, this population faces staggering unemployment, varying from 60 percent to almost 90 percent.

Another 500,000 young adults with autism are expected to enter the US workforce over the next decade, notes HR Digest. Many will be adequately qualified, and might even have held jobs as minors, experts say. However, once they reach adulthood, employment plummets. The reasons vary. But what remains constant is that without gainful employment, many cannot lead independent and fulfilling lives.

“They don’t need to be CEOs,” said Milton Vescovacci, chairman of the upcoming FIU Embrace Employment Conference. “They just want to live independent, functioning lives.”

The FIU Embrace Employment Conference will explore why and how employers should welcome the “overlooked workforce” of intellectually or developmentally disabled into their companies. The event will be held Monday, March 12, from 8am to 5pm at the Florida International University Graham Center Ballrooms. Participation is free, but advance registration is required. The Conference is intended for employers, HR professionals and diversity officers.

“FIU Embrace is designed to help bridge the knowledge gap, to help human resources and employers understand how to incorporate people with developmental disabilities into their organizations,” said Vescovacci, a shareholder with Miami law firm GrayRobinson, P.A., whose teenage son’s autism has Vescovacci wondering about his future employment prospects.

“Conference participants will learn that employers who have taken the leap to employ the developmentally disabled don’t have to change much,” he said. “That is part of the mission of the conference – to educate people and help them learn how they can help these employees lead meaningful, independent lives.”

Conference keynote speaker, Randy Lewis, is a former Vice President of Walgreens who pioneered Walgreens’ model program of employment for people with disabilities. The program has been recognized as the “gold standard of disability employment” by the National Governors Association and the company scored 90 percent on the 2016 Disability Equality Index from the American Association of People with Disabilities. In his best-selling book on the subject, “No Greatness Without Goodness: How a Father’s Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement,” Lewis chronicled how an inclusive workplace at one of America’s biggest corporations created “a place where people with disabilities could not just succeed, but thrive.” Lewis today is Executive Director of the NOGWOG Disability Initiative, a foundation dedicated to employment diversity.

As Lewis, Vescovacci, and others know, the intellectually disabled often attend grade school for education and socialization skills. However, their progress can fall off after graduation. As adults, employers may be unwilling to hire these individuals and those who do find work typically receive fewer hours and at low-wage jobs, notes one report. Many with intellectual disabilities who find work often suffer bullying, notes HR Digest.

“Their opportunities are very limited,” said Vescovacci. “Even for those who go to college and are prepared to work, there’s a high ratio of unemployment because of issues innate with their disability, like socialization.”

Conference attendees will learn that hiring a candidate with a developmental disability such as Autism need not be challenging. Discussions will include strategies for interviewing job candidates with uniquely personal habits or quirks, how to create meaningful jobs within the organization, implementing sensitivity training for supervisors and coworkers, and knowing the rights these candidates are entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Much of the details and key points of the conference will be included on flash-drives that attendees will receive at no cost as take-aways.

The Conference represents just one of several initiatives by FIU Embrace, a university-wide center that promotes health, wellness and overall functioning of adults with developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities, and other neurodevelopmental disorders. A key priority for FIU Embrace is to shed light on youth who have been largely marginalized and excluded from the workforce.

For more conference details and to register online, visit fiuembrace.fiu.edu/employmentconference

FIU Embrace LAW Tackles the Legal Labyrinth Faced by Adults with Disability

FIU Embrace LAW tackles the legal labyrinth faced by of adults with disability.

Getting a lawyer to meet with you in the evening is pretty unusual. And getting an attorney to see you on a Saturday during a holiday weekend is pretty much unheard of.

But that’s the type of service David A. Suarez received from FIU Embrace LAW when he was looking for help to get legal guardianship of his son, Sebastian.

Sebastian is 17 and has autism. He turns 18 in November.

FIU Embrace LAW is part of the larger program, FIU Embrace, an initiative at Florida International University aimed at promoting health, wellness and overall functioning for adults with developmental disabilities. FIU Embrace LAW provides free legal services to adults with these disabilities and their families through a partnership with the FIU College of Law, one of the top 100 law schools in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report.

When Suarez first sought help from FIU Embrace LAW, he explained to the law student who would be taking on his case that he didn’t get off work until six. The student waited for him, and they met at seven. After he had trouble making another appointment during the week, she suggested they meet Saturday morning. It was the Saturday before Memorial Day.

“They went around our schedule to facilitate and help us, all with a cheerful attitude,” said Suarez. “That was remarkable to see that. You can see that they are truly in the business of helping people.”

Suarez says it was a completely different story when he was trying to get guardianship for his older son, David, who also has autism. He didn’t have this FIU resource to turn to and met with a lawyer in the community.

“It would have to be in the middle of the day, and I had to miss work,” said Suarez. “I went a few times. There was a big difference.”

Suarez says that lawyer was also very expensive, which put a burden on his family’s finances.

Michelle Mason is the director of the FIU Embrace LAW and the senior associate dean for clinical education, experiential learning and engagement for the FIU Law School.

She says most of the people the program serves struggle with finances and often can’t afford legal representation.

She says their clients are referred to them by FIU Embrace and have a variety of legal needs, including family law, landlord-tenant issues, immigration, guardianships, powers of attorney, simple wills and issues surrounding Medicaid and Medicare.

Mason says it’s rare to find one agency that can handle so many different legal issues, so they’ve become a one-stop shop for families that often have trouble just getting around Miami for appointments due to a lack of transportation.

“That’s a great benefit that we offer to families,” said Mason. “It’s a matter of having a host of experts in house along with our law students who are able to provide for those kinds of needs.”

Five to six lawyers work for FIU Embrace LAW program, which is part of the law school’s legal clinic, and more than 20 students routinely serve there. The program has a requirement that students must be involved with every case. This is part of the effort to train these students to deal with the legal issues that frequently confront families with children who have developmental disabilities.

Mason says helping parents get guardianships or powers of attorney are the two most popular services they provide. In most cases the adult child with a developmental disability hasn’t been ruled incompetent by a judge, so there are lots of questions to sort through with the family about the child’s level of competency.

“Is he or she competent enough to say yes, I want my parents to make medical decisions for me, or yes, I want my parents to handle my bank accounts,” said Mason.

She stresses that their goal is not to take away autonomy from the adult with a developmental disability.

“It’s about respecting that they have a certain kind of autonomy and agency and working with the families to figure out what that means and what that will mean for the family across the board,” said Mason. “We’re very careful about and pay a lot of attention to making sure that we’re working with our client most directly and meeting the needs of our client, but also thinking about what does the family need and what’s going to assist the family long term.”

A holistic approach to service for the disabled

Nicole Attong is the director of FIU Embrace. She says many parents who seek help for their children through the program are on long waiting lists to receive legal services in the community to help them with these issues, while some don’t even know about the resources that are available to them. She says their Spanish-speaking clients in particular often have trouble accessing this information.

She says issues of competency often arise when parents seek medical care for their children though FIU Embrace MEDICAL., a program that provides healthcare services for adults with developmental disabilities.

“We’ve been getting a lot of patients that are walking in the door in their early 20s who we recognize have limited capacity and understanding of some of the medical decisions that they must make, so questions of their ability to make those decisions come up,” said Attong.

To help families in this situation, FIU Embrace decided to offer free legal advice and guidance to the program’s medical clients.

“Because without the proper legal work our doctors could not continue to provide medical care,” said Attong.

FIU Embrace LAW also refers clients who need help outside of the areas they focus on to attorneys in the community who provide low-cost or pro bono services. For example, they provided a referral to a family that was being asked to leave their apartment because their child with autism was sometimes loud and aggressive.

Additionally, the project  goes out into the community to hold training sessions about various legal issues that an adult with developmental disabilities might face. The program also provides information to social workers and others who work with this population to help them be able to advise families about these issues.

Attong says FIU Embrace LAW  ultimately  hopes to prepare the next generation of attorneys to work with these families.

“Regardless of where our graduating students go, we want them to have the experience, the knowledge base and the desire to continue to work with this population,” said Attong. “It’s not just about serving the individual. It’s about building the workforce.”



Young adults with developmental disabilities bond with FIU peers over computers

A group of 11 students huddled in the Hardware Lab at Modesto A. Maidique Campus’ Tech Station recently took computers apart, learned to code and worked on websites. But these aren’t ordinary students – they’re exceptional.

The students are part of the Marino Campus, a 10-month post-secondary educational program to help young adults with autism or other developmental disabilities bridge the gap between high school and employment. Students, who range in age from 18 to 30, may participate in the program at two locations – FIU or Fort Lauderdale. They can pursue one of two tracks – hospitality or computer technology.

Students in the School of Computing and Information Sciences (SCIS), part of the College of Engineering & Computing, worked with the Marino Campus visitors to teach them how to assemble hardware, create websites, code and make cables.

“We’re helping the students gain independence at their own level, get a job, be happy and be part of a community in general,” said Michael Robinson, founder of the Hardware Lab, and instructor at the School of Computing and Information Sciences.

FIU Embrace – an initiative developed to promote health, wellness and life skills for adults with developmental disabilities – facilitates the program at MMC, including the recent visit to Tech Station. The visit is part of the Summer Living Program, which brings the Marino Campus students to live on campus in a dorm for one week and experience typical college life.

“The students get the experience of being on campus, and engage with neurotypical students and faculty, who get to see they’re not that different,” said Nicole Attong, director of FIU Embrace. A person who is neurotypical is cognitively and developmentally typical.

She added: “We’re breaking down the walls of stigma that surround kids with disabilities, expanding knowledge and opening up a world of possibilities.”

That’s exactly what was going on that summer day at Tech Station, as the Marino Campus students worked alongside neurotypical peers, learning from each other. As part of the collaboration, the SCIS students also visit the Fort Lauderdale campus to teach computing skills.

For Gabriel Alonso, who has autism, it’s an opportunity to fuel a dream. “It’s my passion – I like to program, and make modifications to software,” he said.

But things weren’t always easy for the 22-year old who is part of the Marino Campus at FIU. “When I was in elementary school, I was treated differently – like an outcast, but that’s all in the past. Things have changed for me,” he said. Alonso aspires to work in software programming upon completion of the program.

Another student with autism, Colt Sheesley, 22, also enjoys working on computers, but it’s not his preferred field. Instead, he hopes to eventually pursue a degree in literature with a minor in marketing or psychology. He’s also an author in his spare time who likes the genres of magic realism, urban fantasy and science fiction. He wants people to understand what it means to have autism.

“Living with autism makes it hard for me to express myself. I tend to avoid eye contact, and it makes it hard to recognize facial expressions,” he said. But there are advantages, too. “My brain doesn’t process emotion [the same way] so I can see things more logically.” He adds that many people with autism have an affinity, and are very gifted, in certain fields.

The Marino Campus curriculum doesn’t only look at employability and independence. “The students are learning about life and social skills, finances, health, what it’s like having a girlfriend, and more,” said Stephanie Mallison, an instructor at the Marino Campus in Fort Lauderdale who accompanied the students to the Tech Station visit.

It’s expected that over the next decade, some 500,000 children with developmental disabilities will come of age in the United States. FIU is using a multifaceted approach, and FIU Embrace is one of various university initiatives to address the need for services and education.

Training Law Enforcement: FIU Embrace Seeks to Educate Officers on Autism

A young man with autism sits in the street playing with a toy truck. His caregiver is nearby lying down with his hands up, pleading with his charge to lie down and be still, while also asking police not to shoot.

Video of the incident in North Miami last year sent shockwaves throughout the country. A North Miami police officer shot the caregiver in the leg. A police union representative later said the officer was aiming for the man with autism because he thought the caregiver was in danger. Just recently, the officer in question was charged in a court of law.

These are the types of incidents that Dennis Debbaudt hopes to help law enforcement avoid.

He trains police officers and other first responders all over the country in best practices when it comes to interacting with people who have autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disability which may cause difficulty when interacting with others in social situations. Individuals with autism can experience communication problems, and repetitive behaviors, such as rocking back and forth.

Debbaudt led a training session in March for law enforcement officers, which was sponsored by FIU Embrace, an initiative at Florida International University to promote health, wellness and overall functioning for adults with developmental disabilities.

“People with autism are like us,” said Debbaudt as he began the training. “They want to have friends and work.”

He stressed one typically can’t tell someone has autism by looking at them, so he gave officers some strategies to use when they suspect someone may be on the spectrum.

Debbaudt also explained that there’s a wide variety of skill levels among the population. Some people with autism may need a caregiver to support them, while others live independently with minimal difficulties. As a result of the level of affectedness, some individuals may be nonverbal and use other means of communication, such as picture boards. Meanwhile, other affected individuals may have above-average vocabulary, but encounter difficulty with comprehension skills.

For Debbaudt, this work is personal. His 33-year-old son, Brad, has autism.

“He’s why I’m here,” Debbaudt said.

When Brad was young he sometimes had tantrums in public, and the family began experiencing contacts with police.

Sometimes when trying to get Brad to get in the car or otherwise comply, outsiders would see Debbaudt’s actions and report it to police as a possible child abduction.

“That concerned me,” said Debbaudt. “It caused me to search for information for the police about autism, and I found that there wasn’t any at that time.”

That started him on a quest to research the issue and develop ways to help officers learn how to respond to calls involving people with autism. Debbaudt was uniquely poised to do this work. He owned a private investigative agency for nearly 40 years, and spent time working as an investigative reporter. He has also authored over 40 articles, books, and chapters on the subject, including: Law Enforcement Professionals: Recognizing and Reducing Risk Situations for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders (2002), and Contact with Individuals with Autism: Effective Resolutions for the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.

Risks Associated with Autism and Contacts with Law Enforcement

Research shows people on the spectrum are seven times more likely to have contact with police than people without autism. An officer’s chance of having contact with someone with autism may rise as more people are diagnosed with the condition. The number of people in the country who are diagnosed with autism continues to grow. Today, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that autism affects 1 child out of 68 in the United States. In 2006, it was estimated to be 1 in 168.

“People affected by developmental disabilities, such as autism, are members of our community,” said Nicole Attong, the director of FIU Embrace. “They are in shopping malls, and they are engaged in the community. And that is where we want them to be. Therefore, inevitably, they will come in contact with some law enforcement.”

Debbaudt says most of these contacts with police are due to missing person reports, suspicious person reports and meltdowns or tantrums.

If a person with autism who requires constant supervision wanders away from familiar surroundings, the consequences can be dire. That was the situation in North Miami. The young man had walked out of his group home. Debbaudt says those with autism are sometimes unable to recognize risks and manage them appropriately.

Sometimes, the behavior of a person with autism can be misconstrued for suspicious behavior. Someone talking to themselves, standing and staring into space or peeking into windows might lead concerned neighbors to call the police. That may lead to suspicious persons 911 calls.

Although, as Debbaudt pointed out, people on the spectrum are not more violent than the general population, and are generally more likely to be victims of a crime.

These contacts have the potential to become violent, especially when an officer has not been trained in how to interact with someone who has autism.

The prospect of that contact can be concerning for parents of children with autism.

Julio Quinones attended the training sponsored by FIU Embrace. Quinones is a lieutenant with the Miami Dade Schools Police Department. He also has a 17-year-old son with autism.

“I’m always worried that when I’m in public he might do something that people perceive as suspicious or dangerous or odd and they call police,” said Quinones. “I’m not sure how they’re going to react to my son, if they’re going to know how to treat him.”

Dr. Luis Carcache, who also attended the training session for first responders, is a psychiatrist with FIU Embrace and an assistant professor at FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.

He says police encounters can also be overwhelming for some people with autism due to sensory overload.

“It could be the loud noises, the flashing lights,” said Carcache.

In response to a sensory overload, affected individuals may run to get away from the stimuli, which could hamper efforts to find them if they’ve been reported missing, or make them look suspicious to law enforcement.

Quinones says he uses his knowledge of autism to try to help other officers understand it.

“As a police officer, one of the most important things I’ve learned is to go slow, take your time and be extremely patient with that person,” said Quinones.

This sentiment was also echoed by Debbaudt. He explained that it may take someone with autism longer to process what’s been said to them. He also encouraged officers to speak in short, verbal bullet points rather than lengthy sentences and to avoid slang or making jokes.

Attong says this type of training is important because it’s the responsibility of the community to learn how to engage those with autism.

“We’re doing this to improve the safety of people impacted by autism, and to give officers a different perspective of who these people are,” said Attong. “They are not people with disorders. They are people. I want law enforcement officers to see that, and see these individuals as valuable persons. If that is done, officers can engage them differently, and it could lead to a safer, more positive interaction.”

The event was the first in a series of community training sessions FIU Embrace plans to hold for various groups including emergency room physicians and urgent care center personnel.

For more information on programs and services offered by FIU Embrace, visit fiuembrace.fiu.edu or call 305-348-5377.

Medical Services

A comprehensive health care program for adults with autism

Written by a Contributing Writer of FIU News

April 21st, 2014

Autism doesn’t just affect children. Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism and sometimes specialized attention can make a big difference.

FIU Health is launching FIU Embrace, a comprehensive and integrated clinical and training program dedicated to providing medical and behavioral health care to adults with autism spectrum disorder.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that Florida is home to more than 200,000 individuals of all ages living with autism and related disorders. They often experience disparities in key health indicators like obesity, mental health and access to health services.

Parents, advocates and autism specialists acknowledge that many physicians are hesitant or unsure how to talk to and examine adult patients who have autism. Many adults with autism go long periods without a physical exam and sometimes doctors miss complications because patients cannot adequately communicate their symptoms.

“Our main goal is to reduce these disparities and the challenges faced by adults with autism spectrum disorder as they try to navigate our medical system and obtain health care services,” said Dr. Daniel Castellanos, professor and founding chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.

During FIU Embrace office visits, for example, all patient care and laboratory services will be provided in the same examination room, minimizing the number of changes and transitions to ensure a more positive patient experience and improved health outcomes.

FIU Embrace services will be offered one Saturday a month starting May 17, 2014 at The FIU Health office on the Modesto A. Maidique Campus, 885 SW 109th Avenue, PG5, Suite 131 in West Miami-Dade County.

Initial services provided will include primary care, gynecology, psychiatry and behavioral health, family emotional support, and laboratory and other diagnostic tests.

“Having trained personnel who are familiar with sensory and behavioral issues will result in a more positive health care experience and improved health outcomes for our patients,”  Dr. Castellanos said.

To make an appointment call FIU Health at 305- FIU-DOCS / 305- 348-3627.

Find the original article here.

Editor’s Note: This article was written when FIU Embrace was solely a program of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and FIU Health. FIU Embrace has now expanded to become a university-wide initiative offering numerous programs and research projects aimed at helping individuals with developmental disabilities, such as: autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, and other neurodevelopmental disabilities.

FIU College of Law

Legal-needs assessment day to launch for adults with developmental disabilities, October 29th

FIU Embrace has teamed with FIU’s College of Law to provide legal advise to families caring for and individuals with autism and other development disabilities

Article contributed by: Jane Schreier Jones

 Recently, a mother and primary caregiver learned the hard way that once a person with developmental disabilities becomes an adult, helping them get the services they need becomes even tougher for parents.

Before she turned 21 years old, her daughter, affected by autism, was covered by the state’s Medicaid plan. But the important services she received — such as 24 hours per week of Behavioral Therapy — were abruptly cut off when the young woman turned 21. Unfortunately, because of the transition to the adult state plan, her daughter was no longer approved for one of the few evidenced-based practices at the proven level of care: behavior therapy at least 20 hours per week.

“Continued learning of the right behaviors is more important than ever for this bright young woman who would like to enter the work force. But the special help she needed had ended,” says Nicole Attong, Director of Operations for FIU Embrace. “This mom could have used legal help to learn what her daughter’s rights are and how to fight the bureaucracy that’s standing in the way. That’s why we’re so pleased with the new partnership we have established.”

FIU Embrace, a university-wide initiative that promotes health, wellness, and overall functioning for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), intellectual disabilities (ID), and other neurodevelopmental disorders (OND), has formed a partnership with FIU College of Law, South Florida’s only public law school. Together, FIU Embrace and Law will launch Family Legal-Needs Assessment Day on October 29th, 2016. 

“FIU College of Law will be providing legal support services for adults with autism and other development disabilities,” says Attong. “This support will be extremely valuable to many families who are faced with major hurdles in trying to help the developmentally disabled adult in their family.”

More than 12,000 individuals in Florida are waiting for services.

Many legal situations arise as a child with developmental disabilities reaches adulthood, Attong points out. For instance, how can a parent set up a guardianship to provide for their adult child? How does a parent navigate healthcare and government systems that normally shut out the parent’s involvement when their child turns 21?

The mother in this example, whose daughter’s therapy was discontinued due to age, was able to — after much frustration — get her daughter approved for Florida Wavier services through the iBudget. However, today more than twelve thousand individuals in Florida are waiting for services.

“We want to help people in our community solve their problems with less hassle and more support,” says Attong. “Getting help from a Legal Aid has been a challenge for parents and waiting for assistance has proven to be a barrier. Our partnership with FIU College of Law allows us to offer legal services to disabled adults and their families who are on our campuses and throughout Miami-Dade County.”

Developmental disabilities can impact a person’s physical, language, learning and/or behavior which has lifelong effects. Given the spectrum of the disorder, some individuals are capable of enrolling in degree-seeking course work or inclusive post-secondary education programs at FIU, in order to earn a degree/certificate and be productive members of society. “Our mission at FIU Embrace is to pave the way for all individuals affected by developmental disabilities and helping the greater community to learn the tremendous value of these individuals and to embrace inclusion,” she says.

Attong has high praise for the FIU College of Law’s faculty, students and administration. This past July, the law school had the highest number of students passing the bar exam in the state and exceeded the statewide average bar passage rate of 68.2 percent, by almost 20 percentage points. This follows the state-leading 84.6 percent passage rate on the February 2016 exam, and 89 percent pass rate on the July 2015 bar exam. All three rates have been the highest in Florida. “Dean Alexander Acosta and Senior Associate Dean Michelle Mason of FIU College of Law have demonstrated a pioneering spirit in making legal services available to individuals with developmental disabilities,” says Attong.

“FIU Embrace strives to create programs and functions to help individuals with disabilities feel integrated at the University in a campus-like setting,” she continues. “FIU College of Law has just made a giant step in helping that happen. We are very grateful.”

FIU Embrace also partners with the Dan Marino Foundation, Autism Speaks and IDENTIFOR.

Family Legal-Needs Assessment Day, October 29

Individuals and families affected by autism, intellectual disabilities, and other neurodevelopmental disabilities such as down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy and more can receive a free legal assessment of their needs at a one-day event, Family Legal-Needs Assessment Day.

FIU Embrace is teaming up with FIU College of Law to present the Family Legal-Needs Assessment Day on FIU’s Modesto Maidique campus on Saturday, October 29, 2016, from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm. The event will be held in Room 1010 of Rafael Diaz-Balart Hall in FIU College of Law. The event is free and open to walk-ins, but advanced registration is recommended by October 27th. Register at ealvite@fiu.edu or by calling (305) 348-5377.


The FIU Embrace initiative at Florida International University was developed to promote health, wellness, and overall functioning for adults with developmental disabilities. FIU Embrace provides supports in three important areas: services, education and dissemination, and research and design.

 The initiative seeks to help developmentally disabled adults lead healthy lives and maximize their individual potential across their lifespan.

Children with developmental disabilities (DD) and autism (ASD) grow up to become adults with DD and ASD, with estimates that over the next decade some 500,000 such individuals will come of age in the United States. Since stress and depression among caregivers is well recognized, in order to address the scope of challenges facing young adults and their families, FIU Embrace is utilizing a multi-faceted approach.  

For more information, visit fiuembrace.fiu.edu

FIU - DMF Ribbon Cutting

Dan Marino Foundation and FIU launch center to provide educational opportunities to young adults with autism

WHAT: The Dan Marino Foundation (DMF) and FIU EMBRACE are teaming up to provide educational opportunities to young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. DMF and FIU will officially launch The Dan Marino Foundation in Miami, located on FIU’s MMC campus, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.


For more than 25 years, DMF has worked to empower individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. FIU EMBRACE is a university-wide initiative aimed at improving the overall health and well-being of adults with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities and other neurodevelopmental disorders. DMF programs will operate under the auspices of FIU EMBRACE.


The partnership will maximize post-secondary education opportunities for students with autism and other developmental disabilities. DMF programs will focus on education, technology, career advancement and independence. FIU EMBRACE’s cross-disciplinary approach, which includes the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, College of Law, College of Communication, Architecture + the Arts, and the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, will provide hands-on learning opportunities for FIU students while providing new and unprecedented opportunities to students with special needs.




    • Recent graduates of Marino Campus, which offers similar post-secondary education for young adults with autism in Broward, will be available for interviews, along with their families.
  • Dan Marino, Chairman of The Dan Marino Foundation
  • Claire Marino, Co-Founder of The Dan Marino Foundation


  • Mary Partin, CEO of The Dan Marino Foundation
  • FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg
  • FIU Provost Kenneth G. Furton

WHEN:         Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016

6 p.m.



Parking Garage 6 (PG 6)-Suite 150, at FIU-MMC, 11200 SW 8th St., 33199. PG 6 is on the north side of campus. For a map click here.




About The Dan Marino Foundation: 

The Dan Marino Foundation, Inc., a 501(c) 3 organization was established by Dan and Claire Marino, motivated by their experiences in raising their son, Michael, who is diagnosed with autism. For over 25years, the Foundation has been a leader in innovation and change, “empowering individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities.” The Foundation has raised more than $53 million to create unique and impactful initiatives in the community. Among these first-of-their-kind initiatives are the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Dan Marino Outpatient Center, the Marino Autism Research Institute, Marino Adapted Aquatics, Summer STEPS Employment Programs, Virtual Interactive Training Agent Program (ViTA DMF), and now post-secondary programs at both Marino Campus in Broward and at FIU. For more information, please visit danmarinofoundation.org or marinocampus.org or vitadmf.org.



About FIU:

Florida International University is classified by Carnegie as a “R1: Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity” and recognized as a Carnegie Community Engaged university. It is a public research university with colleges and schools that offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in fields such as business, engineering, computer science, international relations, architecture, law and medicine. As one of South Florida’s anchor institutions, FIU contributes almost $9 billion each year to the local economy and is ranked second in Florida in Forbes Magazine’s “America’s Best Employers” list. FIU graduates are consistently among the highest paid college graduates in Florida and are among the leaders of public and private organizations throughout South Florida. FIU is Worlds Ahead in finding solutions to the most challenging problems of our time. FIU emphasizes research as a major component of its mission with multiple state-of-the-art research facilities including the Wall of Wind Research and Testing Facility, FIU’s Medina Aquarius Program and the Advanced Materials Engineering Research Institute.  FIU has awarded more than 220,000 degrees and enrolls more than 54,000 students in two campuses and centers including FIU Downtown on Brickell, FIU@I-75, the Miami Beach Urban Studios, and Tianjin, China. FIU also supports artistic and cultural engagement through its three museums: Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, the Wolfsonian-FIU, and the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU. FIU is a member of Conference USA and more than 400 student-athletes participating in 18 sports. For more information about FIU, visit http://www.fiu.edu/.


Students with Autism to get Complete College Experience Through FIU/Dan Marino Program

Parenting is never easy. But for those with children who have cognitive disabilities, parenting comes with an entirely different set of challenges.

“We struggle,” said Nicole Attong, director of operations at FIU Embrace, a program developed by FIU’s medical school to help people with autism.

Attong has a daughter who is developmentally and visually impaired. She often wonders what will happen to her child when she no longer has a living parent.

“Where are they going to work?” she asked. “How are they going to support themselves?”

But this week, two South Florida organizations — FIU Embrace and the Dan Marino Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on autism — announced a partnership to tackle issues of independence for people with neuro-developmental obstacles.

The goal is to offer training so people have a better chance of getting a job or landing a higher-paying one.

“We both have a desire to help these individuals live fulfilling and productive lives,” Attong said.

Dan Marino Foundation students will experience unique opportunities in collaboration with FIU students

Starting in October, the classes will be offered at Florida International University’s main campus in West Miami-Dade as part of the Dan Marino Foundation’s post-secondary education program.

The FIU partnership will allow the foundation to extend its reach and expand its technology and hospitality curriculum.

Mary Partin, CEO of the Fort Lauderdale-based Dan Marino Foundation, said the partnership will also allow students to get a more complete college experience by taking classes on campus, interacting with other students and professors and using the college’s services.

“This really allows us to take a great program that we have, that’s successful … [and] adds such a huge social component,” Partin said. “To be on a campus. To walk through their student union, to really interact with other young people their age.”

And it will benefit FIU, too. Students will work with the foundation students on behavioral and medical research. The goal is to use what they’ve learned and share it with other groups that teach people with developmental disabilities.

“We feel like we’re on the cutting edge of the next step for these people,” Attong said.

Partin said the first class will have 32 students, growing to 50 next year.

“Every time we’re able to take a step closer and do one more thing,“ Attong said. “As a parent, this brings hope. There is some relief.”

Original article published by the Miami Herald on September 28th, 2016 and written by Cresonia Hsieh (chsieh@miamiherald.com)