Center marks 40 years with new facility
HUNTINGTON – The Autism Services Center celebrated its 40 year anniversary with an open house Thursday at its new facility on West 6th Avenue.
ASC, founded in 1979, offers several services to people with autism and their families and caregivers, including residential facilities, respite services and applied behavioral analysis. The center recently moved from an 8,000-square-foot facility into a former bank building measuring up to 35,000 square feet.
“We now have room to grow, we have room to move,” said CEO Jimmie Beirne.
Founder Ruth Sullivan, 95, was also honored at the ceremony. A portrait of her painted by local artist Sassa Wilkes was unveiled, and when the curtain came down, the crowd collectively expressed how much it captured her spirit. The reference photo was chosen by her son, Richard Sullivan, who wanted the portrait to portray her in action – it depicts her speaking at a podium.
“Well I did talk a lot, I guess,” Ruth Sullivan said when she saw the painting, and the crowd erupted in laughter.
And it all started with Sullivan’s son, Joseph.
“If God had to give me a handicapped child, it could not have been more wonderful and amazing than Joseph Sullivan,” Ruth Sullivan said.
Autism Services Center started when Ruth Sullivan recognized services available to her son were few and far between. ASC began as Ruth Sullivan, at her kitchen table, focusing on advocacy and training, but soon identified the need for services.
As Beirne put it, “The branches of your work, Ruth, keep growing.”
The organization now has more than 400 employees that serve people with autism.
In addition to founding ASC, Ruth Sullivan was the Autism Society of America’s first elected president, has authored five books and 65 articles on autism, spoken in 10 countries on the subject and served as an autism consultant for the movie “Rain Man.” Joseph Sullivan is one of three individuals Dustin Hoffman studied to develop his character. And, according to Ruth Sullivan, she convinced director Barry Levinson to have the world premiere for the film at the Keith-Albee.
Follow reporter Megan Osborne on Twitter and Facebook @megosborneHD.