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 (


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