The University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD) opened its doors in 1993 in South Florida in our community. UM-NSU CARD is dedicated to optimizing the potential of people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), dual sensory impairment, sensory impairments with other disabling conditions, and related disabilities. We currently serve over 13,000 families in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties, all at no cost to them. We provide families and our community with resources specific to their needs including: Individualized Client and Family Support, Family and Professional Training, Public Education and Awareness and Community Outreach and Programmatic Consultation and Technical Assistance. UM-NSU CARD is one of seven state-funded, university-based outreach and support centers in Florida.
Dr. Michael Alessandri is the Executive Director of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD). Dr. Alessandri has been a professor at UM since 1996 and has worked with individuals with autism and their families since 1981 in various capacities. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Rochester and obtained his MS and Ph.D. in Psychology from Rutgers University. At the University of Miami, Dr. Alessandri, in addition to his other roles, also serves as the Department of Psychology’s Assistant Chairman for Community Outreach and Engagement.
Over the past 25 years, Dr. Alessandri has worked tirelessly to grow UM-NSU CARD from an organization with one office, three staff, and several hundred clients to a multi-site, multi-disciplinary network serving over 13,000 clients in South Florida. Recognizing the fact that his clients were quickly moving into adulthood, Dr. Alessandri and his team expanded UM-NSU CARD services to include unique services and programs for teenagers and adults. Included among these initiatives is a grant funded project aimed at “awakening the autism entrepreneur” which engages adults with autism, their family members, and the business community in efforts to promote innovative and sustainable business models and work opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum.
“Michael is a rare gem. One that you know you’ve found someone special the moment you meet him. When I think of Michael, these words come to mind: Welcoming, humble, honest, leader, pragmatic, loving, caring, and great friend! He is so much more than I describe above. How do we celebrate a man that has achieved so much but still has the same thirst to help people as he once started? You let him know that his life’s work matters and that the person behind the work matters even more!”
- Pastor, Just for Dads Group
When I was invited to speak at the Tropical Nights Gala in 2012, I was naturally nervous. I was only 13 years old, and at that point, it was the largest crowd I had ever spoken to. Having someone tie my tie may seem like a small thing, but it was very important in more ways than one. Even though my mom and I resorted to YouTube videos and advice from friends, we had made a mess of it. Finally she said, "Someone at that event will be kind enough to tie your tie when we get there." One of the first people we saw was Michael, who greeted us and gave each of us a big hug. We asked him if he would please help us out, and of course he was happy to.
When Michael tied my tie, he not only made sure I was looking my best, it was as if he was telling me to chill, and that everything was going to be okay. We also talked, and as always he made me feel more confident. Before all the uncomfortable noise and stimulation of the event, I got a little calm and comfort. I may have joked a bit when I thanked him for tying my tie, but he had given me a lot. He had supported me and my mom for many years, he gave me the opportunity to speak there, and with his words and his actions he gave me that one last push I needed to be the best I could possibly be.
CARD was there for me soon after I diagnosed with autism, late in life. Since then, they provided supports and guidance, through their programs, like Jobseekers, Job Club and Social GAAIN. They helped me accept - even come to embrace - my diagnosis and meet other adults on the autism spectrum / autistics. They have been with me throughout this journey.
- Jairo, UM-NSU CARD 2020 Outstanding Self Advocate Winner
For me, the group was the discovery of an oasis of empathy where I felt understood whatever I shared. It has always been a time machine too where I can see my past and glimpse the future as per other’s experiences and knowledge. In summary, it is a wonderful unique tool for those parents navigating through the uncertainty of ASD.
-Juan Antonio, UM-NSU CARD Just for Dad's Group
UM-NSU CARD has helped me and my family since I was a teenager. I am honored to have had the opportunity to volunteer and be recognized for my time and effort assisting at CARD events. I loved the opportunity to give back to this organization. Through the CARD Case Managers, groups, trainings, and events I have learned and grown to be the independent adult I am today. This organization helped me build my supportive community.
-Jose, UM-NSU CARD 2020 Outstanding Volunteer Winner
Coming to Mother's Group has helped me connect with other likeminded moms in the same situation as I. I feel fortunate to consider them and you my best friends, my sisters. Being able to contact you all via text, phone, or social media when I am second guessing myself has been lifesaving. I know that even if I move far away, I can count on all of you and you will be in my life for the rest of my days.
You have also been a great source of encouragement, relief, and support in anxious times, also a great resource in finding out about professionals, schools, etc. I love you and my fellow supermoms!
-Vilma, UM-NSU CARD Mother's Group
As the older sibling, I established that I was born with the job to protect my younger brother. Even before his autism diagnosis, I always watched over him. I stood behind him when he learned to walk, taught him, and acted as his bodyguard. My brother has taught me how to be patient and that everyone can learn, you just need to put in the time to find out the specific method of learning. He has inspired me. I wake up every morning to a career that I absolutely love and put all my effort and passion into.
-Nathalie, UM-NSU CARD Staff and Sibling to an Adult with ASD
When we first began our journey with autism, I felt so lost and confused because I had no idea how to find my way to the therapists, school programs, and other programs/resources that would suit my son best. Not only did I find this guidance in the mother’s group with Sara, but even more valuable was the connection to other moms feeling the same feelings, dealing with the same issues, and being able to cry together or just share stories about our journeys. The friendships I formed in Sara’s support groups are beyond invaluable to me and I thank her, and UM-NSU CARD for that from the bottom of my heart. It is so important to have these kinds of connections! Thank you, Sara, and UM-NSU CARD for this and for ALL you do to support our families!
-Monica, UM-NSU CARD Mother's Group
Thank you to our Sponsors
Tropical Nights is your way to help those affected by autism living in South Florida. It is a fundraiser benefiting the programs, services and research initiatives of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD). Our event is a festive celebration designed to raise autism awareness and acknowledging the tireless efforts of important community partners.
The overwhelming success of Tropical Nights over the past 19 years has allowed UM-NSU CARD to maintain its services during times of tremendous constituency growth. For this, we are extremely grateful to our supportive community and generous donors. Funds raised at Tropical Nights help support our valuable programs and services, all of which are provided at no direct cost to families. Some of these programs include: Support groups for all family members, employment boot camps, surf and summer camps, social skills activity groups for teens, community outreach events and so much more!
To keep our guests safe, we encourage our guests to become fully vaccinated before attending Tropical Nights, and for all guests to wear masks at all times during the event, except when eating and drinking. Please refrain from attending the event if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.