Board of Trustees chairman helps fund autism research hub

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Nelson Carbonell and his wife, Michele, announced a $2.5 million donation to GW's autism research institute this week.
Chairman of the Board of Trustees Nelson Carbonell and his wife, Michele, announced a $2.5 million donation to GW’s autism research institute this week.

The chairman of the Board of Trustees and his family will donate $2.5 million to help create an autism research hub at GW, in honor of his son who was diagnosed with the disorder at two years old.

Neslson Carbonell and his wife Michele will fund an endowed professor to serve as the director of GW’s Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorder Initiative, according to a University release on Wednesday.

The Carbonell family said they had been challenged to help their son, Dylan, transition into adulthood, and hope that expanded research by GW professors would help other families.

“Nobody has figured out how to create a world in which these young adults can live independently, have jobs and have a real life,” Carbonell said in the release. “Now that our son is 20, we’re facing similar challenges that we faced when Dylan was 2 years old. There aren’t good programs, policies or strategies for adults and teens with autism transitioning to adulthood.”

GW’s autism institute has put off an official launch after it was first conceived in 2010. Two years later, the Office for the Vice President of Research hired Heather Russell, its first development director, who was charged with raising the funds to formally launch the research center.

Leo Chalupa, the vice president for research, had said the center would need $10 million to fully launch, but that its development could start with less funds.

His office has eyed space in the $275 million Science and Engineering Hall, which is scheduled to open next year.

Chalupa said hiring the center’s leader would help lift the initiative off the ground, and support from the chairman of GW’s highest governing body was a key stamp of approval.

The institute, which links more than 80 faculty from across five schools, including the Milken Institute of Public Health and the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, will focus on studying how autistic teenagers transition into adulthood. Researchers will search for ways to allow autistic young adults to lead independent lives.

“GW has done many things in this area, and we think that our gift will allow us to bring those efforts into focus to make it real and make it permanent,” Carbonell said in a release.

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