Princeton Families Donate $1.5 Million to Rutgers for Adult Autism Research

Two Princeton families, longtime friends who between them have three sons on the autism spectrum, have made a $1.5 million gift to Rutgers University to endow a faculty position in adult autism, a field in which there is a critical shortage of trained professionals and support services.

The Karmazin and Lillard Chair in Adult Autism is being established by Dina Karmazin Elkins, daughter of Mel Karmazin, philanthropist and the former CEO of Sirius XM Radio; Michael Lillard, Chief Investment Officer of Prudential Fixed Income, and his wife, Amy.

The endowed professorship will address intervention and research for adults with autism spectrum disorders from both academic and training perspectives. It will be based at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, which for decades has been providing services to children and adults with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities.

“The Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology has a strong desire to work on finding innovative ways to help adults with autism, a goal that is close to our hearts,” said Amy and Mike Lillard, whose two teenage sons are on the autism spectrum.  “The school’s history of providing services to those with disabilities and educating students to continue that work makes Rutgers an ideal place for a chair in adult autism.”

‘Dina Karmazin Elkins, whose 11-year old son Hunter has autism, met the Lillards when their children attended school together. The families shared their concerns about the lack of resources and services for adults with autism. They began discussing an investment together in a senior leadership position at Rutgers.

“We believed an endowed professorship at Rutgers would expand training opportunities for students and begin to build resources in the state for autistic adults aging out of the school system,” Karmazin Elkins said.

Karmazin Elkins approached her father with the idea and he wholeheartedly agreed.  “The chair is important to my father as he looks to what his grandson’s life, as well as the lives of all adults with ASD, will be like in the future” Karmazin Elkins said.  “Adults on the spectrum have the potential to lead productive, powerful and even extraordinary lives – but only if they receive appropriate therapies and support.”

Approximately 1 in 88 children in the United States is diagnosed each year with an autism spectrum disorder, one of a range of conditions classified as pervasive developmental disorders. In New Jersey, the rate of autism has doubled in six years to one in 49 children, an increase that has confounded researchers. As these children reach adulthood, experts predict a surge of adults on the spectrum who will need continuing services and therapies.

The Karmazin and the Lillard families each contributed $750,000 toward the $1.5 million gift, which will create the fifth faculty position established under a $27 million challenge grant to establish 18 new endowed chairs at the university in a wide range of academic disciplines. For every $1.5 million that is raised for an endowed chair, a donor will match the gift to fund the $3 million needed to create an academic chair.

The 18-chair challenge is funded by an anonymous gift – the largest in the university’s history – to recruit and retain outstanding faculty. The challenge grant, and the Lillard and Karmazin gift, are part of the university’s historic $1 billion ’Our Rutgers, Our Future’ fundraising  campaign.