Association for Metroarea Autistic Children Inc. (AMAC) was founded in 1961 by Patricia B. Selch and two parents of children with autism, Barbara Blum and Gloria Mellin. Autism had recently been diagnosed in young children and The National Organization for Mentally Ill Children (NOMIC) based in Washington D.C. and associated with NIH, wanted to organize chapters in various cities to deal with these children. At that time autism was a new word and few people knew what it meant so “mentally ill” was the term chosen to designate this diagnosis and AMIC (Association for mentally ill children) was started with 3 children and one teacher borrowed from the League for Emotionally Disturbed Children in Brooklyn, the only school for these children at that time. > > > > AMIC was given a classroom by The First Presbyterian Church because the minister, Jack Mellin, had an autistic son. The church was very supportive and gave us more rooms as needed. Our mission was to help the children and their families cope with their problems and to educate them to the best of their ability. A directive had gone out that all children must be given an education but autistic children were not included at this time. We felt that we would take on this responsibility until classes were created in the public schools.
We were supported in this by the Board of Education. We had 1 teacher for every 3 children and our technique seemed to work. We based our work on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) methodology. The children progressed and the families were better able to work with and understand their children. We also instituted afterschool and Saturday programs. These helped the children to socialize and gave the parents respite from what was at times viewed as overwhelming and challenging days.
In 1964 we established a summer camp in collaboration with The Beaumont Camp in Parksville, NY. Tess Sheingorn was the autistic camp supervisor in 1967. In 1970, Mrs. Nunemaker financed a special section and buildings for special children at the Presbyterian Camp. This was the first camp where autistic children could go and where there was enough staff to guarantee care and education. We continued the structure of the school at the camp. At this time Tess Sheingorn became the principal of the school and the head of the camp at its new location. Soon after, 19 classrooms were established in public schools. We had fulfilled our first mission. We decided to concentrate on the afterschool programs and camp. However, seriously disturbed children still were sent to us and so we started back into the business of school.
The diagnosis for children with autism was ultimately changed. These children were no longer mentally ill; they were developmentally disabled. Autism was no longer misunderstood and we changed our name to Association in Manhattan for Autistic Children (AMAC). Over the years AMAC grew from dealing with 3 families to a $11 million-dollar organization dealing with over 350 families in all aspects of their lives.
The organization later changed its name to Association for Metroarea Autistic Children Inc. (AMAC). AMAC has always prided itself on providing services to students and adults who have been diagnosed with autism or are on the autism spectrum. Our children continue to grew up and we continue to help them throughout their lives.