updated 4/28/2006 9:50:29 AM ET 2006-04-28T13:50:29

Easter Seals, a national provider of services for the disabled, says it plans to build a unique school and center for autism research in Chicago, combining education, research and independent-living services on a single campus.

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“No one has attempted to do something of this scale before,” said Dr. Stephen W. Porges, director of the Brain-Body Center at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “But it’s timely, it’s needed, and it’s altogether unique.”

Porges and other researchers who have been trying to find the causes and treatments for autism plan to observe autistic students at the $20 million Therapeutic School and Center for Autism Research as part of their research.

The Chicago City Council donated land on the city’s west side for the center, and state officials promised a $4 million grant so construction can begin this fall, according to Easter Seals of Metropolitan Chicago, which announced the project Thursday.

Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of a child’s life. It affects the normal functioning of the brain, which hinders development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Autism affects about 1 in 166 births, according to the Autism Society of America.

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