Chattanooga Autism Center is…
a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that serves autistic individuals of all ages The Center promotes inclusion and acceptance of autistic individuals and provides services, resources, and education to the community.
In 2009, I. Leslie Rubin, MD and Karen Weigle, PhD created the Chattanooga Autism Center. They were both working in the Developmental Disabilities Clinic at The TEAM Centers and had 100s of clients who received clinical services every month. These parents would meet in the waiting room, share stories, try to support each other, and discuss what programs they wished were available in this region.
Drs Rubin and Weigle heard their concerns and saw the great potential these parents offered. They hosted several meetings and asked these parents to identify what programs they wished our local autism community had. The parents said they desired more education, respite services, ways to connect with other families, access to books and periodicals on autism, more opportunities for their kids, and to build greater awareness in the community. This group of parents (just a handful at first) banded together to form the Chattanooga Autism Center (CAC) which became a new program at the TEAM Centers.
The parents and clinicians and other advocates volunteered their time and created a free workshop series, an educational outreach project, a parent mentor program, and began building an autism library. They hosted their first community conference on autism and had 200 people attend. They created a website and a Facebook group and membership rose from a dozen to 200 people within a year.
The meeting became a regular event and turned into the Parent / Advocate Collaboration Team or PACT. The PACT meetings served as a place to present ideas and then create committees or get volunteers to develop the ideas into actual existing programs. Meetings were open to all who wished to contribute to the autism community.
Many parents traveled a long distance to come to the clinic and to PACT meetings and this was difficult for them. They wanted to build resources in their own communities and the CAC definitely wished to support communities that were outside of Chattanooga and help them hold their own PACT meetings and build their own local support systems and programs. The first area to do this was in Cleveland TN and formed the Cleveland-CAC. This group held several “parents night out” events for the Cleveland area. The CAC hopes that other communities like North Georgia, Rhea County, or Meigs County decide to develop similar groups and we are ready to support them when parents from those areas are ready to start things up.
In 2011, the clinic at the TEAM Centers lost its clinic funding from the State of Tennessee and had to close. The people involved in creating and running the CAC decided to create its own organization with a board of directors, incorporate, and become its own 501c3 nonprofit. They used donation money to lease a suite of offices at 1400 McCallie Avenue and open a small outpatient clinic to provide autism assessments and therapy and have space to continue to support the other programs.
The CAC continues to grow exponentially. They have a full-time executive director who helps parents and advocates create programs or support existing programs. The annual conference has over 500 attending and they've helped host an annual autism conference in Dalton Georgia. The CAC continues to provide workshops and host online resources such as this website and a very active Facebook Group. Almost all of its programs are created and run by parent volunteers or individuals with autism.
For example, Scott Kramer, an adult with autism, created a social and support group for adults called Greater Chattanooga Aspies. Sue Lowery and several other parents worked for years to develop a program called STAGES that helps provide transitional support or adults with autism spectrum disorders. Sue is now working to expand this project to hopefully someday include housing options and a business model to employee individuals on the spectrum. Another set of parents started a summer learning program called REACH that has more than doubled in size in the last several years. One parent coordinates a Spanish-language outreach program. Another parent runs a caregiver support group called HOPE. Another organizes family events in the community, and the list goes on. CAC programs continue to emerge and grow as more parents and advocates volunteer to put their ideas into practice.
The CAC is able to support these programs because of the help and support of people in our community. The help comes in the form of volunteerism, ideas, promotion, and donations. We encourage you to get involved by signing up for our email announcements, joining our FB group, and donating money and your skills to our causes.
Meet Our Staff
Ms, Lincesed Clinical Social Worker
Alyce has over 18 years experience working with adults, adolescents, and children with developmental disabilities and co-occurring mental health disorders. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Ms. Benson specializes in working with individuals who present complex behavioral, medical, and psychological issues, and has extensive experience working in numerous community-based settings and with numerous interdisciplinary teams. She has provided seminars at both national and international conferences for NADD and AAMR. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and National Association for the Dually Diagnosed. In 2014 Ms. Benson was awarded Social Worker of the Year for the state of Tennessee.
PhD, Clinical Psychologist
Dr. Weigle has 20 years of experience working with people with Autism and other Developmental Disabilities and their families. She received her masters and doctorate from West Virginia University and completed Residency at Michigan State University. Dr. Weigle has extensive experience working as part of an interdisciplinary team in several medical specialty clinics and wards. She has provided psychological assessment and intervention services in a variety of contexts including in-home, school-based, clinic-based, agency-based, hospital-based, and community crisis response. She has previously directed programs that provided services spanning East Tennessee and had oversight over a large number of service providers. For over a decade, Dr. Weigle has trained family practice and medical specialty residents, special educators, community-based services providers, families, early intervention specialists, and laypersons. Her teaching experience varies from undergraduate psychology courses to special education graduate-level seminars. Dr. Weigle was the Clinical Director at The TEAM Centers from 2008 to 2011. She now provides Autism assessments and behavior therapy at the Chattanooga Autism Center. Dr. Weigle is also currently associate director for the Centers for START Services at UNH, a national program designed to develop local crisis prevention and intervention services for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health concerns.
PhD, Executive Director