TOMS RIVER, N.J.April 11, 2023PRLog — Ocean Partnership for Children (OPC) is celebrating Autism Awareness throughout the month of April with a variety of internal and community events.

Internally, the OPC team is increasing awareness while raising funds for POAC Autism Services, providing a variety of services to youth, parents and families. Melinda Santiago-Owens, MA, IDD Certified, one of OPC’s Care Manager Supervisors worked closely with her team to design and develop several t-shirts and hoodies celebrating Autism Awareness. OPC staff purchase the shirts, with the proceeds going to POAC Autism Services. “I am so passionate about Autism Awareness and Acceptance, that I can’t wait until every April when we at OPC call attention to issues facing youth with autism, their parents and caregivers, and their families. I’m excited that we also get to raise funds for other community partners doing this work,” stated Santiago. OPC staff wear their t-shirts and hoodies every Tuesday in April for POSITIVI-TEE Tuesdays.

OPC will be participating in the Ocean County Library Autism Resources Fair taking place on April 15 from 10:00am – 3:00pm at the Toms River Branch (101 Washington St, Toms River). This event is open to the public. Members of the OPC team will be providing resources and information while making connections with other partners in the field. “We are so grateful to the Toms River Library for holding this event to celebrate April as Autism month and to not only increase awareness, but to provide needed resources and help”, stated Mary Jo Buchanan, LCSW, MPA, Executive Director of OPC.

“Events held during Autism Awareness month are critical to getting the word out to parents, caregivers and families with autistic youth or young adults,” stated Buchanan. “Often parents feel overwhelmed and do not know where to turn when they receive the diagnosis for their child. These types of events provide information, resources and connection not only with professionals, but with other parents and families experiencing similar challenges,” Buchanan continued.

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national rate for children identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder is 1 in 36 children. This statistic is based on their evaluation of health and educational records of 8-year-old children in 2020 in 11 states, including New Jersey. New Jersey now has the third highest rate of autism in the nation: 1 in 34 children, or 2.9% of 8-year-old children.

Over 25% of the youth that OPC provides care coordination for are on the autism spectrum. “Because of the prevalence of youth that OPC services on the autism spectrum, the agency is committed to not only providing care coordination, but also serving as a resource for parents, caregivers and families,” Buchanan noted. The agency has several care manager teams specializing in working with these youth and families, a regular roundtable is provided for consultation and training for the OPC care managers, and OPC staff participate in state roundtables to discuss specific youth needs and potential resources.

In addition to organizations like POAC and the Toms River Library, OPC actively participates with a variety of community agencies serving youth with autism. OPC staff participate in the I/DD (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) Subcommittee of the Ocean County Inter-Agency Coordinating Council (CIACC), which brings together all agencies serving youth with these challenges on a regular basis to discuss trends, needs and share resources. Additional resources provided by OPC include a full-time I/DD Specialist who assist families with applying for services through the Children’s System of Care and the Division of Developmental Disabilities and the Connections program, a program for youth and young adults to help them make friends and focus on wellness.

“Each individual, family member, caregiver and friend experience autism differently. Today and every day, the OPC team works to celebrate the achievements of neurodiverse people and provide connections, education and resources to the community,” stated Buchanan.

For additional information about autism, please consider the following resources:

POAC Autism Services

Information, education, and policy initiatives related to ASD

Services for children under the age of 3 years with developmental delays or disabilities

Support services for families living with ASD

Special education services for school-aged children with disabilities

24/7 peer-support for parents of children with special needs

Support for parents, including parents of children with special needs

About Ocean Partnership for Children Inc.

Founded in 2005, Ocean Partnership for Children (OPC) is Ocean County’s Care Management Organization (CMO). Its mission is to enhance the well-being of youth and their families through natural and community supports. OPC provides care coordination services for Ocean County youth up the age of 21 years who have mental health, substance use, intellectual and developmental challenges. OPC strives to keep children and adolescents at home, in school, and in the community by connecting them to resources that meet their unique needs and help them achieve their goals.

Ocean Partnership for Children is a non-profit organization available at no cost to all youth and families in Ocean County who meet the eligibility criteria of the New Jersey Children’s System of care. To learn more, visit or