Autism center names new director

The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities named a new director this semester when it chose Karen Berkman after a nationwide search that took more than two months.

Berkman has worked with autism-related disorders and mental health for more than 23 years. She earned a doctorate in special education from Syracuse University. Before coming to USF, she spent six years working as director at the Center for Autism at Pressley Ridge in Pittsburgh.

“I hope, (with) over 23 years of experience, to work with the current system and create a vision,” Berkman said.

Because CARD is community based, the staff must travel to the patients’ homes, schools or wherever else they are needed. CARD provides service to children and adults of different kinds of intellectual disorders, which include autism, Asperger’s disorder and Rett Syndrome.

In addition, CARD provides many different levels of service according to need. These services include phone consultation, public education and awareness, professional training like instruction on autism through workshops, conferences, in-service training and courses.

Berkman said she accepted the position at CARD for two reasons.

“I saw an opportunity for the people that work (for the program) and how they share similar interest in disability works,” she said.

Berkman replaced former director Don Kincaid. Kincaid said in a news release he is busy working with outside projects and his available time to work with CARD is limited. He also said Berkman’s experience with CARD will “enrich” her as she gets to work with a committed staff.

According to Berkman, her experience at Pressley Ridge, where she managed a $2-million budget and a staff of 75 workers, will help CARD expand its presence.

When asked if she had any specific plans for the CARD system, Berkman said she will bring a great sense of evaluation and efficiency to the program.