Nashville’s community pioneering for autism inclusion

By: Lauren Weaver

One need look no further than Nashville’s crane-filled skyline to know it is a city in the midst of incredible growth. For good measure, toss in the growing stack of publications praising the “it” city for its nationally acclaimed cultural, economic, and entrepreneurial draw. It’s an exciting time to be a Nashvillian, but for more reasons than just the latest front page boom. Nashville is also leading the way, as a city, in supporting the unique needs and interests of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 68 children by age 8 will have a diagnosis of ASD, which, among other associated complexities, is characterized by an extremely wide range of social-communication challenges, and restricted interests and repetitive patterns of behavior. In response to this growing population, many of Nashville’s most popular and impactful organizations are now placing an emphasis on inclusion and engagement of individuals with ASD and their families. Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) has partnered with these organizations to increase acceptance, engagement, and accessibility city-wide.

Through TRIAD’s Community Engagement Initiative, local organizations are building capacity for inclusion and engagement by hosting staff training sessions, developing evidence-based supports and resources for their guests, and modifying existing performances and programs. In the past two years, more than 150 of Nashville’s community provider staff have received training on ASD and hosted 18 events with more than 2,000 people in attendance.

To date, TRIAD has partnered with 11 organizations, including Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Nashville Opera, Nashville Predators, Nashville Public Libraries, Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC), Vanderbilt Athletics, and YMCA of Middle Tennessee.

In some cases, the efforts of these organizations have even sparked progress around the country and the globe. Nashville Zoo conducted workshops for international audiences at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2014 mid-year meeting and annual conference. Nashville Opera has reached out to its fellow Opera America members, encouraging 1,200 other North America opera companies to replicate its steps toward inclusion and engagement of this often overlooked audience.

This is a special time of year to feature the work the Nashville community is doing since April is Autism Awareness Month. While there is no known cause, there is extensive literature to suggest principles and strategies in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) can be used as an effective treatment. These principles and strategies are emphasized by TRIAD’s community partners to focus on increasing independence and success for individuals with ASD and their families. April will see a number of the partners host wonderful events for our community to come together to learn about autism and to include children and adults with ASD and their families. Information about the events can be found on TRIAD’s website:

Lauren Weaver, M.S, BCBA, serves as Coordinator of Organizational Engagement for the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD).

Last Updated: 4/28/2015 4:21:47 PM

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