New program aids autistic kids, teachers

Oct 2nd, 2008 | By | Category: Campus News, October 2, 2008

The new Barkley Memorial Center Autism Spectrum Disorders Project has begun. It has a three-part mission that will expand evidence-based intervention practices for young children with autism spectrum disorders, according to Ellin Siegel, director of the program and associate professor in special education and communication disorders at UNL.

The project staff will conduct research, educate university students from diverse disciplines and disseminate results from the project.

The project is a cooperative program funded by UNL and a gift from Autism Action Partnership of Omaha (formerly known as the GWR Sunshine Foundation) to the University of Nebraska Foundation. The Autism Spectrum Disorders Project will implement three primary components: educational intervention programs, social and communication skills intervention groups and a diagnostic, multidisciplinary assessment clinic. The mission of the project is to advance education, service and research related to young children with autism spectrum disorders and their families.

Project EXCEED, a new early childhood program, is integrating children with autism into the half-day classroom activities at the Ruth Staples Child Development Lab as part of the project. UNL students will gain educational experiences using evidence-based practice with this population of children.

The integration of students with autism spectrum disorders into the Staples Lab is part of an effort to help children with autism and assist their families to more fully participate in educational opportunities and gain support from a special educator and a speech-language clinician. A board-certified behavior analyst will provide consultation to the staff. A family resources liaison will be available throughout the project to provide a link for families to education opportunities and related services in their communities.

As part of the project, communication and social skill groups will also be implemented in schools. Project staff and UNL students will assess the skills and challenges of the participants, plan activities that address individual students’ needs, and integrate the goals of the individual students into the activities.

A diagnostic clinic will also be established and bring together a team of experts to provide early and accurate diagnoses. The child’s development will be assessed and information will be provided to families to help find appropriate services for their child. The clinic will also be used to and educate UNL students by providing assessment experiences.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 150 children in the United States has some form of autism. Siegel said the project can have an impact in Nebraska and nationally by disseminating the knowledge and methods gained from the project via training and publications.

“This project was of interest to us because we were drawn to the model for the training of UNL students to directly work with children with autism and the collaborative nature of the project,” said Bridget Cannon-Hale, director of programs for the Autism Action Partnership, which offers support and funding for the project. The Autism Action Partnership was established to improve the quality of life of people on the autism spectrum and their families through education, advocacy and support, thereby enabling them to be an integral part of the community.

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