The old Gates police substation in Westgate Plaza has sat empty for roughly a decade. But on Thursday, the Autism Council cut the ribbon for the station’s new life as the Autism Family Information and Referral Services Center.
The center is a one-stop shop for families, educators and people with autism who need help with education, employment or wellness. It doesn’t provide specific services, but staff there meet with drop-in visitors to send them where they need to go.
“This location is strictly just for information and referrals,” said Lawana Jones, executive director of the Autism Council. “For example, a family has a child you think may be autistic. We have a list of providers in the area ... that does an evaluation for them.”
Jones says when a family has the diagnosis, they can come back and get help on meetings, programs and other community resources that can help them and their child. Jones says they’ll also help adults with autism find work or otherwise navigate life.
The town of Gates donated the substation to the Council; town officials said they wanted to help bring these kinds of resources directly into the community.
“We’d been talking about this building being empty and really not having any opportunity to utilize it,” said town Supervisor Mark Assini. “It’s owned by the town, and when Lawana came (to us), it clicked in my head that this was an opportunity to allow the Autism Council a place to meet and help others.”
The Autism Council says the prevalence of autism is increasing, so these services and the center are needed. According to the group, autism diagnoses have risen 119 percent in the last 18 years, and now 1 out of 59 children are diagnosed on the spectrum. This can be especially taxing for lower-income or otherwise marginalized families who may not have the same kinds of access to resources, or don't know where to go. Jones and the Council hopes the center can help.
They’re dedicating it to Trevyan Rowe, the 14-year-old Rochester student who went missing earlier this year. His absence sparked a regional search, particularly once his family revealed that they believe he is autistic. His body was found days later.
Trevyan's aunt and uncle, Velma and Kent Handy, attended Thursday’s ribbon-cutting, where they were presented with flowers and a plaque.
“We still grieve over Trevyan’s loss obviously, but it’s things like this that help us get through and to know all of this is in place, someone really cares, and maybe some other families can be spared the grief,” Kent Handy said as he thanked the group for honoring Trevyan’s memory.
Jones said that many families with children and young adults who have autism face daily challenges.
"(This) often leaves the families feeling alone, isolated and frustrated with the lack of available referrals for supports and services in the our community," Jones said. "We have to bring awareness of these challenges and be open and creative on how to meet the ever-increasing needs of our community members with autism spectrum disorder.”
The center is open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and is free.
This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk.