A year and a half ago, our organization went through a major rebranding process—choosing a new name for our organization. The chosen name, Spectrum360, and the tagline, “Options Across a Lifetime,” better reflect our mission and the current objectives of our programs and services. There’s a saying — “when you meet an individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism.” We recognize that every student and adult we serve is unique, with special abilities, learning styles, and interests. Our programs, therefore, incorporate many options that can address the needs of each individual we serve, promoting their cognitive abilities, and social, emotional, and behavioral needs. Equally important is ensuring that each individual we serve has a voice, and develops a mode of communication to express their thoughts, needs, and desires, and activities that foster their creativity and self-esteem. Therefore, the “360” portion of our new name referring to “meeting the needs of the whole person,” is an important component.
It is not enough to offer many options; it is essential that we ensure that they are tailored to meet the needs of every individual we serve. Another important part of our philosophy is to “not define an individual by their disability” but to provide them with the same environment, activities, experiences, and expectations that individuals would find in their local school districts, communities, and workplaces with the supports and accommodations they require to succeed. Therefore, in addition to our academic program, extracurricular activities have become an important component of Spectrum360, including art, graphic art, drama, culinary arts, horticulture, film and video production, intramural teams, boy scouts, girl scouts, computer technology, etc. The results have been astounding. Our high school students perform musicals equal to the quality of any performance in the local districts. Students prepare gourmet meals and baked items very much in demand. One of our students has played piano at Carnegie Hall, another has run the New York marathon. Our students have won state-wide art contests, been contracted to produce videos for other organizations and corporations, and participated in basketball and cheerleading teams that have had many winning seasons. Even the students and adults that have not achieved at this level have maximized their potential in many areas. They walk around with smiling faces and increased self-esteem. Major accomplishments, of which many students and their families are proud, are the making of a friend, developing a communication system, learning to make their beds, shop, and cook a meal, attending scouting camp, spending a whole respite weekend on a farm or homes or at the shore.
The tagline, “Options Across a Lifetime,” is becoming an increasingly reflected in who we are. As the incidence of autism in New Jersey has dramatically increased to 1 in 41, the number of students we serve in our schools is expanding. Our Young Adult Program for student 18-21, at Academy360 Upper School, currently includes six classes of students who require additional time to complete their academics and increase social and behavioral skills. For students 14-21 years of age, our transition program has grown by leaps and bounds, helping them to develop social, behavioral and prevocational skills so that they can become productive adults in their communities. Our Community-Based Instruction program provides students with skills required to meet everyday needs in the community, such as shopping, banking, travel, etc. Our Community-Based Work Experience program provides students with the opportunity to intern at worksites 1-3 days per week. Once our students turn 21, we recognize the critical need for adult services to further develop their vocational and life skills to successfully integrate into the community and workforce based on their potential. Independence360, our adult program, currently has two sites—at our Livingston Campus and in Whippany—serving close to 90 adults. These programs, approved by NJDDD and NJDVRS, help our adults develop the critical skills they require to become more independent and secure jobs in the workforce. We recognize that in the future, our adult program will become the largest part of our organization. Adults don’t graduate and their needs continue for the rest of their lives. It’s essential that they continued to be provided the supports critical to their success.
Our name, Spectrum360, and the tagline, “Options Across a Lifetime,” truly reflect who we are and who we should be. However, fulfilling this critical mission presents great challenges, including limited and restrictive public funding, and for our students and clients, acceptance and successful integration into their communities and the workforce.
Fulfilling this mission is a moral imperative. This imperative is what continues to drive us forward to continue to create even more options across a lifetime.
Bruce Ettinger has served as Executive Director/Superintendent of Spectrum360, formerly The Children’s Institute, for 37 years. Over the years, he has grown Spectrum360 into the organization it is today, with five programs serving over 300 individuals. He has received the ASAH President’s Award for Service and Advocacy for Disabled Individuals and the NAPSEC Executive Director of the Year Award. In addition, he has received the Herbert A. Drew, Jr. Award for Excellence in Education and was recognized by Montclair State University as “Employer of the Year”. He also received an award from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation for exemplary practices in its Parents as Partners in Education Program. Dr. Ettinger received his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. He is married and has three children.