A step closer to its creation: Cyprus International Center for Autism
by Neophytos Papaneophytou*
For the past year, a team of expert volunteer clinicians, educators, and not-for-profit professionals has been working feverously toward the creation of an international center for autism research and treatment of those affected in Cyprus and its efforts have rendered significant results thus far. Among them, yours truly, Neophytos (Neo) Papaneophytou, who happen to be a licensed mental health counselor, psychology lecturer, and Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology, has been exploring research opportunities, organizational structures and training options, as well as networking and developing other collaborative options in the United States. Other team members have been visiting established regional centers in Europe and the Levant so that they can formulate a solid plan and timeline as to the center’s inauguration. The team has been prioritizing efforts ranging from absorbing the latest research and best practices to connecting with international luminaries while safeguarding appropriately located land, funds, and other resources. To this end, a multi-acre piece of land outside Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, has been secured along with promised funds of approximately US$1 million.
During the period 16-26 June, the Director of Secondary Education in the Ministry of Education and Culture of Cyprus Dr Zena Poulli, will be visiting the Yale Child Centre and other places for this purpose. On my end, because I specialize in issues pertinent to parent-infant mental health, I have consulted with distinguished Harvard University emeritus professors and researchers who have expressed a strong interest in the creation of this visionary international center. Luminary clinicians and researchers such as T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. (see Brazelton Foundation and the Touch Points Institute), Edward Tronick, Ph.D., and Alexandra Harrison, M.D., have shared their feedback with our volunteer team of experts while stating their unconditional support of this international center.
The team members envision the creation of an international multicultural multi-disciplinary service center with dual functions.
Firstly, it will serve as a center for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders, offering treatment, education, and care, based on the latest internationally established best practices. The center will assist each child in reaching his/her maximum potential, taking into account his/her special abilities, in order to allow her/him independence and optimal integration in the home, educational framework, and workforce.
Secondly, it will serve as an international research hub for the development of integrated application and strategies to accommodate these treatment modalities. In addition, researchers, clinicians, geneticists, and practitioners will convene yearly at the center’s international conference in order to share the latest research results, integrate best practices, and enhance international collaboration in the field. The center will serve a uniquely international clientele, offering a larger pool of genes for research and publications that are expected to offer a greater understanding into the origins of the disorders, potentially rendering most effective treatment of the symptoms.
During the first phase of its establishment, beginning in 2014 with the conference, the center will serve the local population on both sides of the only divided European island (Cyprus northern part remains under Turkish occupation after the brutal military invasion of 1974). In the second phase, 2014 onward, the center will be able to accommodate additional clients/families from neighboring countries.
Mission & Goals: To offer expert early diagnosis and instruction for early, quality intervention, diagnoses and treatment in order to improve the functioning of children who are classified on the autism spectrum and to allow them to enjoy an improved quality of life both at present (as children), and later on in life (as adults). The center will be dedicated to safeguarding the rights of all clients living with Autism Spectrum Disorders, as those are contained in and discussed by International Organizations and forums.
Why Cyprus: Cyprus is a full member of the European Union, strategically located in the nexus of three continents. It has always served as a geopolitical and socioeconomic bridge among many neighboring nations and cultures. With two international airports and numerous seaports, Cyprus is easily accessible from many global points. For centuries, Cypriots have been known for their hospitality, global trade, and quality of service.
Age of population served: During the first phase, the center will offer treatment to clients aged 3–18 years. During the second phase, the center will accommodate clients aged 1 month to three years for early detection, diagnoses, intervention and treatment. At the same time, the center could provide inclusion services for employment to its 18+ population, depending on individual ability and level of functioning. Following initial diagnosis, state of the art treatments will be provided. After their graduation from the program, clients could benefit from training programs leading to employment and/or furthering their education, as well as re-integration and inclusion in the community. The center will provide for and offer education and training to all families of clients during both phases and beyond.
Enhancing international research and collaboration (awareness, “prevention”, genetics, and treatment): The center is affiliated with the very successful Institute of Genetic Studies of Cyprus. International conferences will be held, resulting in publications on the latest and most relevant research and clinical treatments.
Functions: The Center will offer a multitude of services, some of which will include therapeutic intervention services, professional consultation to governmental, community and other national and international agencies involved in the education, health and care of clients.
Staff: Staff will include a medical doctor, clinical psychologists specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorders, a psychiatrist, psychotherapists, social workers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, art therapists, animal therapist, music therapists, horticulture therapist, clinical externs/trainees, school principal and vice-principal, homeroom and special education teachers, subject-oriented teachers and assistants, clerical, administrative staff, and maintenance staff. The center will benefit from the continuous influx of visiting professors, researchers and other experts who would be welcome to discuss and suggest state-of-the-art therapies and treatment.
Earth-friendly policy: The school will emphasize environmental education and conservation, as well as improve awareness of green environment, sustainability of resources, health and life quality. Emphasis will be placed on personal responsibility in maintaining an “earth-friendly” everyday life and for responsible use of all goods and materials available to humans and animals. As such, an ecological garden, including a therapeutic green-house, will be developed and established by the clients and our team of experts. The garden will provide clients with an additional learning forum, as well as a place for relaxation in an environmentally conscious fashion. Herbs, essential oils, and other produce will be available at the gift shop depending on season and production levels.
Budget: A detailed budget analysis will be produced during the resulting stage of planning. A broad estimate of costs (design, build, staff and expand) for the Center, would be in the rage of US$25–30 million.
During this stage of organization and planning, those interested may contact me, Neophytos (Neo) Papaneophytou, at (212) 498-9877 (office) and (646) 239-1048 cell. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Neophytos (Neo) Papaneophytou, LMHC, LPC, NCC, DCC, is a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology, a psychology lecturer and a psychotherapist in private practice (licensed in AK, CT, DC, GA, NY, MA & PA).