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Nealy wins scholarship for work with autistic children and adults

MSW student Chris Nealy is the first beneficiary of a new fund for students who work with autistic children and adults.

Christopher E. and Pamela B. Nelson, of Clayton, N.C., recently established the Jake Nelson Raleigh TEACCH Fund to provide annual stipends to practicum students and interns learning to work with individuals with autism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine’s Raleigh TEACCH Center, located in Garner, N.C. The Nelsons created the fund in memory of their son, Jacob D. Nelson, a former client of the center who became an educator and advocate on behalf of the TEACCH program’s work with autistic children.

Nealy, of Lumberton, N.C., is the first to receive a stipend from the fund. The Nelsons established the fund with a $2,000 donation.

“We’re pleased that we can assist the Raleigh TEACCH Center in its important work and, in doing so, keep Jake’s name and memory alive in the TEACCH community that helped him and that he enjoyed being a part of,” Chris Nelson said.

TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication related handicapped CHildren) is an evidence-based service, training, and research program for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, and their families. TEACCH provides clinical services such as diagnostic evaluations, parent training and support groups, play and recreation groups, individual counseling, and supported employment. In addition, TEACCH conducts training and provides consultation for teachers, residential care providers, and other professionals. Research activities include psychological, educational, and biomedical studies.

“I’m excited about the gift and its impact on training professionals to work with children and adults with autism and their families,” said Mary Van Bourgondien, clinical director of the Raleigh TEACCH Center. “This fund helps to carry out the work that Jake started, of increasing the knowledge of autism spectrum disorders throughout the health and education communities.”

When Jake was a preteen, he was diagnosed high-functioning autism/Asperger’s syndrome. He benefitted from therapy at the Raleigh TEACCH Center, which included participation in middle school and high school social groups, through which he learned social cues and made lasting friendships. While Jake was attending Wake Technical Community College, he volunteered with professionals from the Raleigh TEACCH Center to educate public school teachers and answer questions about working with children who have autism disorders. Jake was particularly interested in empowering educators to protect autistic children from bullying.

Jake died on August 30, 2009, of complications after surgery. He was less than a month shy of his 21st birthday. In addition to his studies and volunteerism, Jake was also a part-time proofreader/clerk at the Clayton News-Star.

TEACCH, headquartered in Chapel Hill, has nine regional centers throughout the state of North Carolina. Most of the clinical services TEACCH offers are free to citizens of North Carolina.

Contributions to the Jake Nelson Raleigh TEACCH Fund can be sent to The Medical Foundation of North Carolina, Inc., 880 MLK Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514-2600. Please specify that the donation is for the Jake Nelson Raleigh TEACCH Fund.

Story courtesy Edward Byrnes, the Medical Foundation of North Carolina