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Mobile REACH Van: Comprehensive ASD Outreach in the Real World

October 15, 2014

By Mahmoud Shurbaji ‘15

MobileREACHcrowdDrexel is on the forefront of innovation once again with its new Mobile REACH van. The A.J. Drexel Autism Institute’s Mobile REACH van is the first of its kind in the region to offer mobile autism services to communities. REACH stands for Resources and Education for Autism and Community Health. The project was made possible by the generosity of the Nancy Lurie Marks Foundation, the Lurie Family Foundation, and the Philadelphia Eagles.

The design of the Mobile REACH van was developed by students in the Drexel University Antoinette Westphal College of Media and Design, who through a competition were able to design features that would to cater to the specific needs of patients with ASD. This included the addition of warm non-fluorescent lighting, sound resistant walls, and neutral tones. The interior of the van, which is protected from the eyes of external viewers to provide greater privacy, houses HIPPA-compliant cameras to record patient assessments. Aside from clinical related features, the students also came up with the idea to color the van green in honor of the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Mobile REACH van will travel to various areas in Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley, and suburban and rural Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The van itself was designed to provide a wide variety of screenings and assessments for ASD to individuals of any age. More importantly, the Mobile REACH Program is meant to educate individuals and their families about ASD and the resources available to them like the services that the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute can provide. A major focus will be to provide services to those residing in underserved and underrepresented communities.


During the reception and introduction ceremony on May 29, 2014, Drexel University President John A. Fry remarked, “When I think about this van, I think about a hands-on approach to problem solving…If we can meet clients who are dealing with autism right where they live in their neighborhoods, we can broaden our impact and expand the amount of information that we can gather together, which will give us ways in which we can work more effectively.” Craig J. Newschaffer, PhD, Founding Director of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute and professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Drexel University School of Public Health, noted, “We try to focus on population level science with the intent of preventing disability and promoting quality of life for individuals with autism and their families. And one of the things that’s central to this different way of thinking about autism research is for us to find better ways of understanding autism’s impact in our communities; how it affects individuals, how it affects families in the neighborhoods where they live. Mobile REACH is going to be integral to our being able to do this.”

Newschaffer also mentioned that with the help of the City Health Commissioner and Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity, the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute has already begun working with the Philadelphia Departments of Health and the Offices of Supportive Housing on a plan to use Mobile REACH to help provide developmental screenings and evaluations to children who are living in the city’s emergency and transitional housing settings.