Philadelphia Autism Project Background

The Philadelphia Autism Project was established in 2013 by the office of former City Councilman-at-Large Dennis M. O’Brien and continues to be supported through the office of City Councilman-at-Large Derek S. Green. The Philadelphia Autism Project seeks to better understand and address the diverse needs of people living with autism and their families.

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August 2019

Identifying Needs and Creating Solutions

The Philadelphia Autism Project is the first citywide initiative of its kind and started with a partnership with Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS). A select leadership team helped identify stakeholders, including self-advocates, family members, policy makers, researchers, service providers and others to participate in three phases of working meetings. The working meetings focused on: defining where Philadelphia is today and creating a vision for the future, identifying needs and creating prioritized solutions, and establishing timelines and indicators of success. In the first meeting, stakeholders identified 10 themes for the project. During the second meeting, stakeholders were organized into groups based on these 10 themes and created initiatives for the project. In the third and final meeting, stakeholders voted on the 100+ initiatives generated and ranked areas of highest need.

Through the working meetings, stakeholders identified better connectivity to resources, both in-person and online, for individuals with autism and their families and outreach to underserved communities as top priorities. In addition to addressing these priorities, the Philadelphia Autism Project continues to develop programming to address the initiatives outlined by the stakeholders. The Philadelphia Autism Project Report provides additional details about the initiative development process, while also outlining all of the themes and initiatives prioritized through this process. The top 5 stakeholder recommendations for priorities by category can be found in the Executive Summary of the Philadelphia Autism Project Report on pages 7-10.

Reaching Underserved Populations

The seed award funding project was designed to reach underserved and underrepresented populations living with autism in Philadelphia by engaging with community organizations to address the needs identified by the Philadelphia Autism Project.  The Philadelphia Autism Project team hopes this award process will expand and evolve over time.

Applications for seed award funding were first made available in March 2015. Applications were focused on organizations that aimed to develop projects and programs for Philadelphia children, adolescents, and adults living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. By engaging individuals, groups, faith-based or grassroots organizations through these seed award projects, the Philadelphia Autism Project was able to connect with underserved and underrepresented populations living with ASD and created opportunities for individuals and families living with ASD to participate more fully in community life. Over 30 applications from locations all over the city of Philadelphia were submitted. Twelve programs received seed award funding.

In 2017, the Philadelphia Autism Project revised the goals of the seed funding and created the GRants for Autism Advocacy and Support (GRAAS).  GRAAS funded the creation of self-advocacy and/or support groups in Philadelphia, as well as existing groups, in making them stronger or able to reach out to more people.

Seed Award Recipients

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Creating a Centralized Resource Hub

Creating a centralized location for resources, both in-person and online, was a priority for the Philadelphia Autism Project stakeholders. The Philadelphia Autism Project partnered with the ASERT Collaborative and the Free Library of Philadelphia to accomplish this initiative.


The website for the Philadelphia Autism Project serves as a centralized, accessible hub of resources for individuals with autism and their families, as well as providers and community members. The development of an accessible centralized location for individuals with autism and their families was a top priority throughout all of the Philadelphia Autism Project stakeholder meetings. The website for the Philadelphia Autism Project provides Philadelphia-specific resources, while also connecting to resources available to all Pennsylvanians through the ASERT Collaborative website, including the ASERT Resource Center available by phone (1-877-231-4244) or email (, in English and Spanish.

In Person

The Philadelphia Autism Project is working with the Free Library of Philadelphia to implement a variety of programs and services throughout the city with the goal of creating physical resource hubs. There are 61 library branches located all over the city offering a wide range of resources that are beneficial to individuals with autism and their families including access to computers and the Internet and a potential space for community meetings, events, trainings, and activities. To find a library branch location near you or to learn more about the programs offered at a branch near you, visit: Additionally, the Philadelphia Autism Project, ASERT, Elwyn, and the Free Library of Philadelphia debuted a series of ground breaking family-focused films at Philadelphia library locations.

Conferences and Community Events

2015 Philadelphia Autism Project Conference: Awareness to Action

The first annual Philadelphia Autism Project Conference was held on October 16th, 2015 at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Branch. There was an overwhelmingly positive response to this conference, with over 150 conference attendees and speakers including self-advocates, family members, and professionals from throughout the Philadelphia region.

Attendees had the opportunity to connect with leaders in the education, clinical, policy, and research fields, while also learning about the Philadelphia Autism Project community engagement efforts, including the seed award projects.

Highlights from the conference included presentations from lead researchers about effectively finding resources to inform treatment planning and decision making. Attendees also learned skills for communicating with decision makers.

2015 Conference  

2017 Philadelphia Autism Project Conference - Fostering Connections: Living, Working, and Building Relationships

The 2017 conference was held on May 12th at Community Behavioral Health in Philadelphia, PA. Over 160  self-advocates, caregivers, researchers, and professionals attended the conference from throughout the Philadelphia region.

Attendees had the opportunity to learn about innovations in employment, transportation supports, self-advocacy, building relationships, establishing community connections, building communication, ABA, the Adult Autism Waiver and changes to the ID programs in PA.  

2017 Conference