Christina Whalen, Ph.D., has been named vice president and director of the Vocational and Life Skills Academy at the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, the organization announced Monday.
“In my new position, I’ll be running programs for teens and adults,” Whalen says. “I will supervise existing programs as well as doing research for some new services.”
Whalen has worked for 20 years in the field of autism. Her journey began when she was a pre-law and psychology major at the University of California, San Diego. In order to achieve honors for her degree, she had to rotate between several labs at the university. One of them was researching autism.
“I asked my advisor what I could do to change my career,” she says. “I loved the families, the kids and the science of it all.”
Whalen moved to the Valley six weeks ago from San Francisco to assume her new position. Before that, she worked with SARRC in the development of a software program called TeachTown. The program is designed for autistic children and allows them to use the computer to develop language, social skills and pre-academic skills. TeachTown is currently in more than 200 schools across the nation.
In her new position, she will supervise a variety of projects that are run by SARRC. One program, designed for teenagers, combines autistic teens and teens without the condition. The two groups go out together and do community service work in places like libraries or dog shelters.
“It’s an opportunity for them to work on their social skills, give back to the community and develop pre-vocational skills,” Whalen says.
Adult programs run by SARRC are designed to help autistic adults live and work independently. The group offers employment services and currently has 17 adults placed in jobs in the community.