News-autism(erin)

In America, one in 88 children isdiagnosed with autism—a neuro-behavioral disorder with an unknown geneticcause. Most children are diagnosed around the age of three, when autisticcharacteristics first become noticeable.

“That’s when we really start tonotice kids are falling behind,” said Lee Mason, assistant professor of specialeducation and a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA).

To meet the needs of the growingautistic population, the Behavior Analysis Certification (BAC) Board partnerswith over 170 universities with approved course sequences to prepare futureBCBA therapists. Recently, UTSA joined the list, in large part because ofMason, also a BCBA therapist.

After Mason graduated with hismaster’s from Stephen F. Austin University, he accepted a job teaching specialeducation students in the area. His students ranged from age six to 21 andneeded individualized instruction.

Looking back on his undergraduateand graduate special education studies, Mason noticed one common thread—the excessiveand ineffective use of impractical, theory-based lessons.

“It was a broad range of experiencefor me all at once. I think that got me thinking about how to better educateteachers that are going into the field,” Mason said.

Shortly after accepting hisposition at UTSA, Mason began to design a five-course program that would allowUTSA graduate students hands-on experience with autistic children.

To finalize the program, Masonteamed up with UTSA Associate Professor Maria Kaylor, a specialist in the earlyeducation of special education teachers.

In fall of 2011, the BAC Board approvedthe five-course program sequence for UTSA. Graduate students in the programwill learn applied behavior analysis principles and techniques in order to beprepared for the BCBA exam.

Students seeking certification inbehavior analysis with the BAC Board must also complete 1,500 hours ofsupervised field experience. To aid students, Mason and his team established anon-campus autism center, the Teaching Education Autism Model (TEAM).

“We wanted to standardize thingsand make it a little bit better,” said Mason. “We thought that if we could somehow provide a controlledexperience for students to begin accruing those hours, then we can make surewhen we talk about something in class, they can come down here in the clinicand have the opportunity to practice some of those techniques.”

The TEAM Center will be available tostudents enrolled in a five-course program who are seeking to earn the fieldhours required for BCBA certification. The five-course program, which isseparate from the TEAM Center, can be embedded into either the educational psychologydegree or in the Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching (ILT), specialeducation concentration. It is also available as a certification program forthose students who have completed their graduate coursework.

“It’s great to have a hands-onopportunity to learn, and I think students get a lot more out of it when theyhave applied experience behind it, not just the textbook readings,” statedMason.

A full year of planning andphysical renovation was a necessity for Mason and his team in order to createthe program and the TEAM Center. Grant funding from Impact San Antonio aided toremodel the autism room at UTSA’s downtown campus.

Opened to the public on Jan. 28,2013, the TEAM Center facilitates Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy forfamilies in need. Children can receive care for a nominal fee of $50 persemester for up to seven and a half hours per week, versus the private rate ofabout $50 per hour.

ABA therapy at the TEAM Center isspecialized to each student’s needs.

“We look at the problem behaviorsthe individual is displaying, whether that be tantrum-ing, aggression, propertydestruction, self-injury, whatever else—what does it do for that individual,what function does it serve?” said Mason. “And based on our analysis, we comeup with an individualized plan to develop more socially appropriate replacementbehaviors.”

Because the center is operated byvolunteers, child enrollment will change on a per-semester basis. Two UTSAgraduate students currently support the center, allowing a four-child capacity;however, the TEAM room has the capacity for up to 10 children.

The center is currently focusing onchildren under five years old; however, long-term expansion goals may changethat focus.

“We know there is a lot of need,and we plan to address some of those other stages of life through the programas we continue to expand,” said Mason.

In addition to providing care tolocal children and offering the experience for graduate students, the TEAMCenter will also facilitate autism research at UTSA.

“If we have research coming up andwe need to bring in a class of middle-school students that we can focus onsomething like social skills, we have the ability to do that,” Mason said.

“Hispanics are currently thefastest-growing population to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders,”stated Christi Fish, UTSA associate director of Media Relations.

“It compounds the need for serviceshere in San Antonio,” Mason stated. “San Antonio is a phenomenal place to beworking in this particular field, since it’s such an underserved community.”

While San Antonio consists of amajority Hispanic population, parents seeking to enroll their children in theprogram at TEAM do not have to worry about the language barrier—something Masoncalled a “luxury.”

“The great thing about that is thatour graduate student population does bring such a diverse and localized set ofskills,” Mason said. “For instance, many of our students are first-languageSpanish speakers, so we can provide therapy in Spanish, if needed.”

In the midst of its first semester,Mason said, “We’re just excited to be here to provide services to the communityand provide experience for the students and promote research to the field ofspecial education and applied behavioral analysis.”

For more information, visit www.utsa.edu/autism.

Related Stories

More from Erin Boren/ Intern

Editorial Board

At the University of Missouri, real change happened — but only when loss of university revenue was threatened. Missouri student…

More In News

Geoffrey Okolo Staff Writer

Eduniversal, a global ranking and rating agency specializing in higher education, recognized three master’s degree programs at UTSA as among…