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Forty years ago, child psychologist Eric Schopler conducted ground-breaking research showing that autism is a developmental disorder, not an emotional illness. Schopler subsequently pioneered a treatment program for autistic children, resulting in the establishment at UNC of TEACCH – Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Children, the first state-supported, university-based program serving individuals with autism and their families.
Since it was founded, TEACCH has helped more than 5,000 people with autism and their families throughout North Carolina and indirectly helped tens of thousands around the world.
TEACCH is marking this milestone year on May 20 with a gala at the Fearrington Barn at Fearrington Village. Proceeds from the event will be used to endow a research professorship at UNC in Schopler’s honor.
Gary Mesibov, TEACCH’s director, will present Schopler with an award for his years of leadership and service. “Dr. Schopler is a global leader in the treatment of autism,” Mesibov said. “Thousands of individuals with autism and their families are the beneficiaries of his leadership, research and discoveries. We are grateful to him for his hard work, dedication and achievements in this field.” The award will be named the Eric Schopler Lifetime Achievement Award and will be given annually to a person in the field of autism research and treatment.
Autism is a life-long developmental disability that prevents individuals from properly understanding and responding to what they see, hear and otherwise sense. It is the third-most-common developmental disability, affecting approximately one out of every 250 children. Individuals with autism have difficulty learning language and social skills and relating to people. More than 25,000 children and adults in North Carolina have been diagnosed with the condition. There is no known cure.
TEACCH is part of the psychiatry department at UNC’s School of Medicine. It is a statewide program for the diagnosis, treatment and education of children and adults with autism and similar developmental disorders. Its mission is to enable individuals with autism to function as meaningfully and as independently as possible in the community, to provide services throughout North Carolina to individuals with autism and their families, and to generate and disseminate knowledge and information about theory, practice and research on autism.
TEACCH operates 10 regional centers throughout North Carolina, providing diagnostic and assessment services for children as well as vocational training for adults with autism.
The celebration, “40 Years of Learning for Living,” is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. and feature gourmet dining, dancing to bluegrass and country swing music and a live auction.