Around a decade ago, retired West Chester University professor Dr. Philip Duncan partnered with Dr. Jennifer Dawson to open the Southeastern Pennsylvania Autism Resource Center (SPARC).

The West Chester University Foundation also worked with SPARC. In March of 2007, SPARC officially opened in Mitchell Hall. In 2009, its location moved to the West Chester University Graduate Business Center.

According to Dr. Dawson, the clinical director, SPARC works with individuals on the autism spectrum, as well as with children with other behavioral concerns.

“Although we primarily work with children and adolescents on the autism spectrum, we welcome all children, regardless of diagnosis, who are appropriate for our services,” said Dr. Dawson. “SPARC provides both center and community-based diagnostic, therapeutic, and educational services.”

SPARC also provides community outreach and education to parent groups, schools, daycares, medical providers, service agencies and more.

Around eight to 10 student volunteers work in SPARC each semester, many of whom are from WCU. SPARC sees between 50 and 60 patients every year.

According to Dr. Dawson, SPARC has a wide variety of opportunities for volunteers. SPARC needs students who are willing to commit to at least one semester and two days per week. They are always looking for students that are available from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 2 to 7 p.m. SPARC also offers practicum and internship opportunities.

SPARC offers “feeding therapy, social skills classes, pre-education classes, autism diagnostic testing, consultative services (parent training, IEP review and recommendations, toilet training), training workshops for schools/daycares and more,” said Dr. Dawson.

Fortunately, SPARC is in network for most insurance companies. They also offer a sliding scale for families who cannot financially pay for the services, if the insurance is not covering the SPARC services.

“Not only can students volunteer with us they can actually earn field experience/internship credits here. Students that join our team often stay for more than one semester because they enjoy it so much. We offer the opportunity to be very hands on with our patients,” said Dr. Dawson.

She continued to say that their students report that their time at SPARC was invaluable to their education and formation of future career goals.

“SPARC offers undergrad and grad students in the field training, unique learning experiences, and course credit (depending on your major),” said Dr. Dawson.

Students who volunteer at SPARC are given advice by therapists in the field, gain great experience, and are often written excellent letters of recommendation.

For more information, please visit To find out more about internships and volunteer opportunities, email Dena Kelly at

Theresa Kelly is a fourth-year student majoring in English literature secondary education. She can be reached at

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