Like so many other agencies, Autism Services Center (ASC) was born out of necessity – a mother’s need to find help and services for her son. That quest inspired her to help others in the same situation and that journey eventually became her life’s work.
ASC Founder, Ruth Christ Sullivan, Ph.D.
Ruth C. Sullivan, Ph.D., and her husband, William, had seven children and one of them, Joseph, opened the door for them to the strange and bewildering world of autism. As a nurse and mother, she recognized that her son’s odd behaviors were not consistent with those of other children and when the diagnosis was finally received, it sparked a desire in her to learn everything she could about autism in order to help her child. Although autism was first diagnosed in 1943, very little was known or written about it and support groups and services were practically nonexistent.
When Dr. Sullivan established Autism Services Center (ASC) in 1979, her intention was to help others with advocacy, training, and lecturing. However, it soon became apparent that the true need was for services.
In December 1983, ASC was asked to accept the challenge of working with a 12‐year‐old girl whose statewide reputation for unmanageable and often violent behavior landed her in the locked ward of a state mental institution and made other placement impossible to find. ASC moved her into an apartment in Huntington, her hometown. With mostly inexperienced staff, ASC was able to do what professionals at the institution thought impossible – to significantly improve her behavior. Today, this young woman resides in one of ASC’s homes and lives a happy, busy, and healthier life. ASC’s reputation grew quickly and they were soon providing services to other clients in several locations within the city of Huntington.
In 1988, the movie “Rain Man” starring Dustin Hoffman was released and greatly affected the autism community. One of the two autistic savant role models Hoffman studied to prepare for his role of Raymond Babbitt in the movie was Joseph Sullivan. Hoffman studied the 1985 UCLA documentary about Joseph called “Portrait of an Autistic Young Man”, hours of its outtakes, and met Joe during the filming of the movie. Ruth Sullivan had been hired as a consultant on the movie and she and Joseph appeared on several national talk shows following its release. After the movie, autism became a household word and although most people may not have known someone with the disorder, they were now at least familiar with the term.
A premier of the movie was held in Huntington as a fund raiser for Autism Services Center and was attended by Dustin Hoffman, the director Barry Levinson and the producer of the movie. Proceeds from the event were used as a down payment on the first house purchased by ASC.
In March of 1989, the WV State Legislature closed the Colin Anderson Center, the last state‐run institution for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. ASC remodeled another one of its homes to accommodate six medically‐fragile individuals from that center.
The next year, ASC was asked to help a 19‐year‐old teenager weighing nearly 300 pounds and living at home with his parents in rural West Virginia. Jeff had been kicked out of school five years earlier because no one was able to cope with his aggressive behavior and the only remaining option was to place him in an institution. ASC appeared to be Jeff’s last hope.
Not only did ASC accept the challenge of providing a 24/7 residential program for Jeff in Huntington, but they decided to document the process of transitioning Jeff from his parents’ home into one owned by ASC. The resulting documentary entitled “Out of the Darkness: The Jeff Matney Story” is an account of this young man’s struggle with autism, his family’s long search to find help for their son, and his remarkable progress at ASC. The major goal of the video was to prove that no matter how difficult the behaviors, significant improvements can be made with appropriate programming and staffing. The film received the 1997 Media Excellence in Video award from the Autism Society of America, the 1996 Exemplary Practice Media Award from the Association for the Severely Handicapped (TASH), and an Honorable Mention award in the 1996 Columbus International Film Festival. It has been translated into Spanish and seen by audiences all over the world.
In 2001, Dr. Sullivan met with about 25 agencies from across the United States that provided community‐based residential services to adults with autism similar to those offered by ASC. That meeting led to the formation of an organization called the National Association of Residential Providers for Adults with Autism (NARPAA). That organization continues to grow in size and reputation.
In 2007, ASC decided to produce another film, this one based on an article written by Ruth C. Sullivan, Ph.D. The 30‐minute documentary called “Letting Go: When Your Child Leaves Home” follows four families as they struggle with the difficult decision and emotional turmoil of whether or not to place their child in an agency‐run residential facility. This film won the 2008 Excellence in Media Award from the Autism Society of America and is available through this website.
In 2007, after 28 years of being the guiding force at ASC, Dr. Ruth Sullivan decided to step down as Executive Director and hand over the day‐to‐day operations to her second‐in‐command, Mike Grady. Dr. Sullivan continues her involvement in ASC as a member the Board of Directors.
After the retirement of founder Ruth Sullivan, Mike Grady took over the management reigns in 2007 with Dr. Jimmie Beirne serving as Chief Operations Officer (COO). Mike served as CEO until his retirement in October 2016, leaving Dr. Beirne at the helm. Mike’s welcome influence will continue to be felt as a member of the ASC Board of Directors.
Dr. Beirne’s career with Autism Services Center (ASC) began in 1988 when he was hired to provide respite services for an adult savant with autism. He became intrigued with the individual and the disorder and that interest evolved into a lifelong career.
Dr. Beirne earned his B.A and M.A. in Psychology from Marshall University and his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from Walden University.
Like his predecessors, Dr. Beirne has presented on topics relating to autism and other related disorders at national and state conferences. He has a particular interest in Applied Behavior Analysis, which led him to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst – Doctoral (BCBA-D) in 2009. Under his leadership, the ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Clinic at Autism Services Center was established in 2014.
ABA is endorsed by the U.S. surgeon general as an effective, researched-based practice for individuals with autism in reducing inappropriate behavior and increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behavior. Dr. Beirne also provides consultation services in and out of state for professionals and families. Under his guidance, ASC hopes to continue to provide the same high-quality services that have earned them recognition and respect throughout the nation.
In May of 2008, Autism Services Center was honored to be chosen as “One of the 55 Good Things about West Virginia” by The State Journal, West Virginia’s only business newspaper. ASC also received a “Certificate of Excellence” from the West Virginia Title XIX MR/DD Waiver Program.
In 2012, ASC received approval of their PBS training curriculum from the West Virginia Association for Positive Behavior Support (APBS) Network, whose standards were adopted from the National Association for Positive Behavior Support. ASC produced a set of videos to accompany their PBS training curriculum and has made them available by purchase to other organizations for training purposes.