Former Councilman O’Brien to be Honored at Drexel for Work in Autism Community

Dennis O'Brien
Dennis O'Brien

To celebrate his commitment to the autism community, the ASERT Collaborative, housed at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, will host an event in honor of former city councilman and state representative Dennis O’Brien.

O’Brien worked for more than 30 years as a state representative, including the first-ever minority party Speaker of the House, and as a councilman in Philadelphia city council to support and advocate for those with disabilities, including autism.

“Denny O’Brien has been a driving force and a fervent advocate for the autism community. His passion is unprecedented and inspiring. He pushed Pennsylvania and Philadelphia into the forefront as leaders in autism across the US,” said Lindsay Shea, DrPH, director of the ASERT Collaborative Eastern Region and Philadelphia Autism Project.  

In 2014, O’Brien’s work led to him launching the Philadelphia Autism Project. A state administrative census that year determined that more than 4,000 residents in the city have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a 116 percent increase since 2005.

The project seeks to identify and connect residents on the spectrum with resources and better address the needs of underserved populations in the city. Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability has partnered with the Philadelphia Autism Project.

The private event recognizing O’Brien will be held Jan. 28 at Drexel’s Paul Peck Alumni Center from 6–8 p.m. 

“The Philadelphia Autism Project is a prime example of Denny O’Brien leading the way to create change,” Shea said. “Through the project, we’ve been able to generate new partnerships and reach previously underrepresented members of the autism community in Philadelphia.” 

Since its launch, the Philadelphia Autism Project has been able to create an online resources hub as well as offer seed money to organizations and individuals for new projects and programs geared toward those living on the spectrum in Philadelphia. 

The ASERT Collaborative is an initiative funded by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Autism Services, located within the Department of Human Services.  More information on the ASERT Collaborative can be found at

The A.J. Drexel Autism Institute of Drexel University was launched in the summer of 2012 to bring a public health focus to autism spectrum disorder. Utilizing an interdisciplinary team of researchers, the institute strives to serve the Philadelphia community and focus on the two main tenants of public health: prevention and population.

Media interested in attending the event can contact Frank Otto in University Communications at 215.571.4244 or