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By Christopher P. Brown

Today is National Kindergarten Day. This is a great day to celebrate and be thankful for everything that kindergarten and our kindergarten teachers taught us and our children. 

How might you celebrate?

Here are five ideas:

    1. Create a story with your child about kindergarten—from your child’s perspective and from your own, maybe even comparing kindergarten today to what you experienced. Stories help children make sense of their current reality, and they offer you and your child something you both can go back to revisit over the days, months, and years about this time in kindergarten.
    2. Have a virtual party with your child’s classmates. Children makes sense of their world through social interactions with others. Spend time discussing what the past few weeks have been like while also celebrating being in kindergarten. This can assist them in processing all that has happened.
    3. Because you’re likely homeschooling your kindergartner, take a moment to savor and appreciate all you are doing to educate your child.
    4. Play. Play. Play. Play traditional games like hop-scotch, hide-and-seek, or tag. Spend time practicing or learning a new sport, do puzzles, take a walk and point all the new things that have or are about to emerge as spring comes into full swing. Whatever you do, just be playful as you interact with your child or your friends; talk in silly voices, sing silly songs, or just act out pretend play scenarios. Play allows all of us to reconnect with what John Dewey described as our impulses as learners. We are all driven to inquire about the world we live in, to develop and construct meaning as we do this, and to share these understandings while our expressing our feelings socially with others.
    5. Thank kindergarten teachers for all they do. Kindergarten teachers engage in a range of complex pedagogical practices on a moment-to-moment basis to care for and support each of their students. They helped you and your classmates see yourselves as learners and problem solvers. That taught you that there are adults in this world outside of your family who want to help you succeed in school and in life. They also assisted you in developing the skills necessary to work with and support others so that you could achieve your goals.
Two kindergartner students drawing on an easel

Two kindergartner students drawing on an easel

Why do we celebrate today?

April 21 is the birthday of Wilhelm August Frobel (1782-1852), the founder of kindergarten. Frobel opened his first kindergarten in Germany in 1837, and for him, kindergarten was a place where children were guided by a nurturing teacher to develop a thirst for knowledge while also trying to become loving, kind, and conscientious enough to use that knowledge for the good of humanity. 

Frobel’s ideas were first brought to the U.S. by Margarethe Schurz to Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1856. Susan Blow opened the nation’s first public kindergarten in St. Louis in 1873.

Though kindergarten has changed over the years, this National Kindergarten Day is markedly different. Most kindergarteners and their teachers are meeting virtually rather than in their schools, which has created challenges and new opportunities in our global, digital world. 

Nevertheless, you and I need to celebrate this day because kindergarten is special. It’s a time in children’s lives that should bring warm, fuzzy thoughts about schooling, self, and probably some of the best friends you’ve had throughout your life.

What also makes kindergarten special is that it’s the place where you may have entered school for the first time. It’s the place where teachers, working alongside families, helped you and your children harness your drive to make sense of the world. Kindergarten is where you learned what it means to be a member of a community, a community that cares for and supports each other as you move forward together across the school year. Kindergarten is also where you learned that there are many different ways to live and grow in this world. 

So please celebrate national kindergarten day with your children, family, and friends. Reach out to the kindergarten teachers you know and thank them for all they’ve done each and every day for you, your child, and all kindergarteners who had the pleasure to be in their classrooms.

Christopher P. Brown professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in early childhood education. He is a faculty fellow with The Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis and a faculty fellow of the Center for Health and Social Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. He is also the past-chair for the Early Education/Child Development Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.

In spring 2018, College of Education student Vida Nwadiei joined three undergraduates from other colleges on campus to compete in the inaugural university-wide program, the President’s Award for Global Learning. Now in its second year, the program promotes international research, social impact, and entrepreneurship in seven regions throughout the world.

What is Colorism?

Colorism is a form of prejudice that says a person with a slimmer nose, bigger eyes, straighter hair, and lighter skin has more value. People around the world believe that these qualities make people more desirable, successful, and intelligent.

Colorism creates a social hierarchy within homogenous communities of color that says the more European a person looks, the more acceptable they are to their community. These values are often internalized.

In South Korea one in three women between the ages of 19 and 29 undergoes double-eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty (nose job), or jaw reconstruction surgery. African American women in the U.S. straighten their hair. Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans take skin lightening pills or use skin bleaching creams on themselves and their children to lighten their skin.

In August 2016, Ghana placed a ban on skin bleaching products containing a harmful substance called hydroquinone. Despite the ban, the multibillion-dollar industry of skin bleaching products still dominates the West African cosmetics market. This creates a world of mixed messages for women. In Ghana, colorism is often most pronounced among professional and preprofessional women.

Nwadiei and her teammates Timia Bethea, Rebecca Chen, and Christina Cho competed to be one of seven teams selected to conduct region-focused research that would have a lasting impact on its citizens. Their proposal: explore the influences of colorism in Ghana through the lenses of media and businesses, identity and selfworth, the cyclical nature of skin bleaching in families, and social mobility.

Four women posed in a truck

Clockwise from top left: Timia Bethea, Christina Cho, Vida Nwadiei, and Rebecca Chen.

A pre-physical therapy senior majoring in exercise science, Nwadiei and her team were selected from a field of 28 and received a $25,000 grant to implement their two-year, self-proposed project in Africa: The Color Complex.

Nwadiei’s team has worked throughout the process with three faculty members that they selected to serve as subject matter experts: Kevin Cokley, Oscar and Anne Mauzy Regents Professor for Educational Research and Development in the College of Education; John Doggett, senior lecturer in the McCombs School of Business; and Minette Drumwright,associate professor in the Moody College of Communication.

We want to take this from a summer project, to a movement, to something that can be institutionalized. This is a global issue that we want to begin to tackle here at The University of Texas. —Vida Nwadiei

From Austin to Accra

Nwadiei, Bethea, Chen, and Cho spent the summer of 2019 in Accra interviewing Ghanaian women about their experiences with personal care products and their attitudes toward beauty practices. “Our time in Accra was part of our plan to create separate and specialized social media campaigns that will run at UT Austin and the University of Ghana to mitigate the negative effects of this serious mental health concern,” Nwadiei says.

When the team came back for the fall semester, they started working with two advertising classes, both led by Galit Marmor-Lavie, lecturer in the Moody College of Communication. “We want students to be able to talk about their own experiences, understand each other’s experiences, and begin a process of healing. We want to take this from a summer project, to a movement, to something that can be institutionalized. This is a global issue that we want to begin to tackle here at The University of Texas,” Nwadiei says.

Project Timeline

Spring 2019

Qualitative research in Austin with African-American and Asian-American undergraduate students at The University of Texas at Austin.

Summer 2019

Qualitative research in Ghana with Ghanaian women, including students at the University of Ghana.

Fall 2019

Develop campaigns and pre-test and post-test surveys with students at The University of Texas at Austin.

Spring 2020

Run campaigns at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Ghana.

If you would like to learn more about the cause, share your story, or just connect, go to thecolorcomplex.cargo.site or contact thecolorcomplexpagl@gmail.com.

For parents and caregivers of children with autism, new research shows that there’s no place like home—or the park or a classroom—to provide effective learning opportunities to support their child’s development of language, social communication, and play.

Highly structured and formal interventions are valuable, and now there is evidence to show that techniques that family members and other caregivers offer in natural settings are valuable, too.

Micheal Sandbank was principal investigator of a research team that conducted the first meta-analysis of studies designed for young children with autism. Sandbank is an assistant professor in the Department of Special Education in the College of Education. The multi-university research team examined 130 reviewed studies of non-pharmacological interventions.

The interventions are particularly effective for supporting language, social communication, and play development, she says.

The analysis was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin and marks the first meta-analysis of 130 reviewed studies of non-pharmacological interventions designed for young children with autism.

“There is more high-quality evidence supporting these interventions for natural settings, or naturalistic developmental behavior interventions (NDBIs) than some traditional approaches for aiding young children with autism,” Sandbank says.

NDBIs are early intervention techniques that are implemented in everyday settings by clinicians, educators, and other caregivers, as opposed to more structured and formalized interventions. These techniques use behavioral strategies to teach developmentally appropriate skills to young children with autism.

An NDBI strategy for teaching a child to say the word ‘ball’ might include playing with a ball in the park, saying the word multiple times, and using it in context.

These strategies were created to be easily integrated into routine activities throughout the day to have maximum impact for children.

Although NBDIs are not new, categorizing them as a specific type of intervention is, Sandbank says.

In 2015, the developers of these interventions wrote a consensus statement declaring that they were similar approaches guided by a shared philosophy. “This statement allowed us to consider their evidence together, rather than separately,” Sandbank says. “We also found similarly strong evidence that developmental interventions are effective for supporting social communication development in children with autism.”

“Meta-analysis allows us to see whether interventions are more or less effective depending on different characteristics of the participants and the intervention – it helps us determine what works and for whom,” Sandbank says.

The meta-analysis showed that although traditional intervention methods such as early intensive behavioral intervention have promising evidence supporting their use, more high-quality research is needed.

In addition, the research concluded that there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of several other types of interventions, including TEACCH, which focuses on learning strengths and preferences of the individual with autism; sensory-based interventions; animal-assisted interventions; and interventions mediated solely through technology. Approaches that integrate technology, such as high-tech augmentative and alternative communication devices, into more established interventions appear promising, according to this meta-analysis.

Additional research by Sandbank and the team on autism interventions has found that interventions are often more effective for kids with more language skills and are more effective for improving spoken language compared with understood language.

The team is continuing to explore other findings related to how intervention results vary based on different characteristics of the intervention, participants, or the outcomes that are being tracked.

“The evidence regarding intervention for children on the autism spectrum has been rapidly transforming,” Sandbank says. “The last decade has seen the publication of more than 100 group design studies of intervention, including at least 50 randomized controlled trials. These studies attest to the fact that access to intervention in early childhood can yield a range of positive outcomes for the children receiving it, but we have further to go to improve the quality of our evidence.”

We’re meeting families in their homes and neighborhoods. We’re welcoming them as engaged, contributing community scientists—finding answers to their questions and sharing results with them in real time.

In Texas, many children live in poverty, suffer from chronic illness, or endure abuse and neglect. Despite years of targeted intervention, these issues persist. Now a team of researchers from across campus is working alongside community partners to change the way science helps society thrive.

Whole Communities—Whole Health is one of three UT grand challenge initiatives rethinking “research as usual.”

“There’s always been a dilemma in research: we collect a great deal of data about study participants, but often the data isn’t shared with them so that they can use it or learn from it,” says Sarah Kate Bearman, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology. “Now, with incredible advances in technology, there is the possibility of getting information back to study participants quickly.”

Faculty from across campus are contributing to Whole Communties—Whole Health, which kicked off in fall 2018. Bearman is one of two faculty members from the College of Education taking part. The other is Darla Castelli, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education.

Traditional research studies take snapshots of peoples’ lives at different points. Advances in measurement and technology allow for a better understanding of the complex and dynamic ways in which people live their lives. Whole Communities—Whole Health hopes to use that technology to build a more complete view—a movie, compared to a snapshot—of the many factors that affect a child’s wellbeing.

One of the unique features of this initiative is the emphasis on returning this information back to the people who can best put it to use. Study results and insights will be returned to participants and community organizations quickly—and in some cases in real time—so that information can be a catalyst for change.

Learn more at Bridging Barriers.

At times, parents can be teased for using “baby talk” with their young children. But it turns out that baby talk, the slow, elongated, varied-pitch manner in which parents often speak to babies and small children, may actually help with their language and speech, an insight that could be helpful for children with autism.

Micheal Sandbank is studying how typically developing children and those with developmental disabilities distinguish between words and non-words in child-directed speech, or baby talk. These studies are providing researchers with insights into predicting language in children with autism, with an eventual goal of leading to earlier diagnoses and therapeutic treatment. The studies may also inform intervention practices for children with autism. Sandbank is an assistant professor and area coordinator for early childhood and special education in the College of Education.

Photo of young girl wearing brain sensorsThrough their research, Sandbank’s team has found that the word processing “signal” is strongest when typically developing children hear words spoken in baby talk rather than adult-directed speech. This is even the case with children as old as 36 months. While the team sees a good signal for these older toddlers with adult-directed speech, baby talk is still stronger. The researchers are still examining this signal in children with autism.

In her Brain and Language Lab, Sandbank and her team use electroencephalography—or EEG— to study the way young children process words. Specifically, they are studying event-related potentials—brain responses that are the result of sensory, cognitive, or motor events.

Photo of the Brain and Language Lab

It’s the first such lab in a college of education in the U.S. that studies brain activity in children as young as 12 months.  The children sit on a parent’s lap while 64 sensors are placed on their head using a device resembling a hair net. As researchers read real and non-real words, they record children’s brain responses. The team continues to recruit children with autism and process data.

The team is conducting a meta-analysis of early intervention data.

If you’re an athlete or soldier, or anyone vulnerable to a head injury, you’ve asked the question.

That’s because concussions are a type of non-penetrating traumatic brain injury (TBI), and it’s not known how many can lead to debilitating later-in-life health consequences such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a devastating degenerative brain disease found in some athletes, soldiers, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma.

The prevailing thought has been that TBIs elicit the same physiological response across the population—that most people are similarly affected by one or more head injuries and the best–and really only—response to a TBI is to limit exposure.

It turns out, though, that asking how many concussions is too many isn’t the right question to ask, because it may not be the right way to think about how and to whom TBIs cause damage.

According to research by Steven Kornguth, the right questions have to do with vulnerability versus resilience, and protection versus overcoming.

For some people, one or more TBIs can have devastating effects later in life. For others, whether they’ve had a few or many, there are limited long-term consequences. Because TBIs are experienced differently by different people, there are more relevant ways for you to think about TBI:

  • What’s your vulnerability to TBI to and what’s your level of resilience?
  • What’s the level of protection you need from a TBI and how can you can overcome its effects once you’ve had one?

“TBI affects people in the prime of their lives. How do we change that? How do we help them? That’s a big motivation for me,” Kornguth says.

Steven Kornguth stands in front of a class of undergraduates at UT Austin

Steven Kornguth teaches “Autoimmune Disease,” an undergraduate course in the College of Education, cross-listed in Undergraduate Studies. The course is open to undergraduates from across the university.

Kornguth is looking at the surprising role of the body’s autoimmune system in TBI development. He is a senior research fellow in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education and professor of neurology at Dell Medical School.

There are molecular, cellular and systemic responses to traumatic head and body events, so he and his colleagues are asking a new and surprising question: What is the body’s autoimmune response to TBIs?

Rather than simply looking at limiting exposure to concussions, Kornguth is looking at those who may have high resilience and would be unlikely to suffer long-term consequences, and then what role the autoimmune response plays in that.

Is there an evolving autoimmune process that leads to CTE? If that’s the case, can customized treatment protocols be applied for the management of the autoimmune disease process? Can better and more specialized equipment be provided?

These questions are leading them in an attempt to determine if there are pharmacological treatments that can be offered to reduce the effects of TBI and prevent the development of CTE.

If researchers can understand the level of vulnerability an individual may have in the first place, it’s possible there can be medications given to vulnerable populations before and/or after a TBI that will limit autoimmune response.

Steven Kornguth sits with undergraduates in his Autoimmune Diseases course

Steven Kornguth sits with undergraduates in his Autoimmune Diseases course.

Kornguth is one of the nation’s foremost researchers on the long-term effects of concussions on athletes and soldiers. For years, he has worked on biodefense programs with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin Madison, University of Texas at Austin, and the Army Research Laboratories and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Washington, D.C.

But each spring of the academic year, you can find him leading an undergraduate signature course, Autoimmune Disease, talking about sense-making and the autoimmune system with 18-22 year-olds.

Why does Kornguth choose to teach undergrads? “Why wouldn’t I?” he says. “The rate of scientific discovery relating to the cause and treatment of these diseases is progressing very rapidly, and so as both a faculty member and student, I find there is a new insight we all perceive from each day’s discussion,” he says.

How he does it:

Sense-making is one element of Kornguth’s life work. It’s the process of finding patterns in seemingly unrelated data to gain new insight for civilian and soldier protection.

Sense-making is critical in medicine, he says, “where a practitioner can take what appear to be dispersed signs and symptoms reported by a patient, and align these into a fused diagnosis.”

This same process, he notes, is critical in technology innovation and intelligence-gathering, and many other aspects of life in the world.

Learn more:

In a series of podcasts produced by the Office of Instructional Innovation, Steven Kornguth discusses various aspects of health and autoimmune disease.

Listen to the Learning from Texas Education Innovators podcast.

Inside the light room at the College of EducationWe all know that students need math support, but sometimes teachers need new ways to support their students’ learning. In her video studio in the College of Education, Sarah Powell creates short videos for YouTube that offer tools and strategies on a variety of math topics—from solving equations to partial products multiplication. The clips provide research-based techniques and strategies that are easy for teachers to transfer to the classroom.

The videos are part of Project STAIR—Supporting Teaching of Algebra: Individual Readiness—and they offer quick and easy-to-understand tutorials, whether you’re a new teacher or a classroom veteran—or a parent looking for help with your student’s homework.

Powell is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education. Her research interests include developing and testing interventions for students with mathematics difficulties. Project STAIR is a research project collaboration among the University of Missouri, Southern Methodist University, and the University of Texas at Austin.


Jim Hoffman working with students in Mozambique

An interview with James Hoffman, professor of language and literacy studies, on his collaboration with University of Texas San Antonio Professor of Literacy Education Misty Sailors and their longstanding partnership with educators in Mozambique.

Current work

In 2016, Misty and I became the primary literacy consultants on a seven-year project in Mozambique funded by the Canadian government. We work in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, CODE Canada, and Progresso (our local NGO).

This is our most recent and current project and is closest to what we do in our work at home as literacy teacher educators.  We are working directly with teacher training colleges to improve the quality of teacher preparation for primary schools.

Initially, we focused on designing and gathering baseline data on current practices in teacher preparation. Our work has shifted to focus on work with teacher educators to promote the use of interactive/participatory methodologies that encourage active teaching and active learning in academic courses. Our long-term goal is that the next generation of elementary teachers use these interactive tools and strategies in their own classrooms.

Adapting methods to local context

For the last year, we’ve been engaged in a feasibility study of a mentoring partnership between a teacher training college and their annex elementary schools. Our approach is modeled on the methods we use currently at both UT Austin and UT San Antonio in our tutoring and mentoring.

We have adapted our methods to the local Mozambique context and are working to develop a model that can be used nationally. Throughout our time working in Africa, we have been intentional in conducting research with our colleagues that can inform the international community.

Respect for local expertise

We are careful in our work to respect and use local expertise. We are sometimes positioned as external experts who bring solutions to problems. We are not that. We work hard in building relationships to be supportive of local efforts, local expertise, and local problem-posing.

We work as partners. We worry a great deal that much of international development work comes from a very different model where grand solutions are imported by outside experts to solve problems identified by these same outsiders.

Mostly, these grand solutions are simplistic, wrong, and deflect attention away from the powerful work that is being done by locals. Post-colonial oppression thrives in the form of international aid efforts.

 James Hoffman directs the undergraduate reading specialization program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin and teaches graduate courses focused on literacy research. He is a professor of Language and Literacy Studies.

 For more than 15 years, he has conducted research and development work in Africa with Misty Sailors, professor of literacy education in the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching at University of Texas at San Antonio. Their work has taken them to several nations where they have collaborated with local experts and communities to improve literacy instruction in the primary grades.


Victor Sáenz began his tenure as chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in June. He discusses how changing the department’s name from Educational Administration better reflects the dynamic field, and what’s happening within the department and in the educational leadership and policy arena.

You have said that changing the name of the department reflects an evolution that aligns with changes in education. What are the most critical changes in the field right now?

The new department name reflects immense changes in the field of education, brought on by innovations in school leadership and management as well as shifting policy priorities. Issues such as school choice, demographic change, the rights of undocumented students, state divestment of public education, the compounding effects of poverty on school systems, and innovations in technology are re-shaping the education landscape. We need to train our school leaders and policy researchers for contemporary K-12 and higher education contexts, and our current faculty are engaged in research and practice that informs these new educational realities.

The department has a history of graduating principals and superintendents who go on to lead schools and districts not just in Texas, but across the country. What sets your graduates apart from other public education leaders?

Our department has built a national reputation for producing award-winning educational leaders and policy researchers. To ensure this legacy continues, we must be proactive and stay ahead of new educational leadership and policy challenges. Our department has a strong core of senior faculty with years of executive experience in training leaders and scholars, mid-career and junior faculty who employ cutting-edge methodological training in their expansive research agendas, and clinical faculty who possess years of professional experience that they bring into their classrooms. This balance is a key asset for our department and our students, and it must be carefully supported as our educational systems are disrupted by technology, curricular innovations, and shifting educational policy priorities.

What is the role of leaders in today’s educational arena?

Our leadership program’s goal is to achieve equity and excellence in academic outcomes for all students. As demographic changes portend more racial and ethnic diversity in the coming decades, especially in urban contexts, it is imperative that our educational leaders have a bold vision to promote the way in creating greater access to meaningful education opportunities for all students. We train educational leaders to have a strong grounding in research and best practices, to focus on improving teaching and learning, and to utilize inquiry-based, data-savvy, and strategic-planning skills. Training strong and effective educational leaders then leads to strong and effective schools, and this is how we aim to achieve our goal of equity and excellence for all.

How do faculty and students in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy work together to address pressing policy issues?

Our department has a rich legacy of students and faculty working collaboratively across sectors to address key policy issues in education. It begins with a group of faculty committed to working with students to provide meaningful experiential and field-based experiences that enrich learning in and out of the classroom. As a result, some of these opportunities have led to real policy impact. Our students emerge from our programs equipped to not only navigate multiple policy arenas but also to effectively influence and impact key policy conversations in education spaces.

What are your recommendations for anyone considering a career in educational leadership and policy?

Prospective students interested in applying to our educational leadership and policy programs should consider our strong legacy of training equity-minded scholars and practitioners. We train policy scholars who address emerging education policy issues and are committed to researching inequities in schools for all students. We prepare school leaders who anchor their practice in social justice and anti-racist leadership. We provide powerful learning experiences that are deeply grounded in fieldwork within schools and communities. These experiences launch our master’s and doctoral students into meaningful careers as scholar-practitioners with an optimal blend of theory and practice.

Victor B. Sáenz is chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy and is an associate professor in the Program in Higher Education Leadership. In 2010 Sáenz founded Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success), focused on advancing success strategies for male students of color across the education pipeline.

The goal of the Department of Special Education is to be a bridge of expertise for families of children with autism, and for the community. We provide a space for our faculty to conduct basic and applied research. We also prepare our students to create and deliver best practices in a variety of environments: the home, community settings, and as researchers at other institutions. Mark O’Reilly, Chair, Department of Special Education

Basic Research

Baby Talk

Micheal Sandbank, assistant professor, is studying how typically-developing children and those withan illustration of a baby with a thought bubble containing jibberish words developmental disabilities distinguish between words and non-words in child-directed speech, or baby talk. These studies may provide researchers with insights into predicting language in children with autism, eventually leading to earlier diagnoses and therapeutic treatment. They may also inform intervention practices for children with autism.

In her Brain and Language Lab, Sandbank and her team use electroencephalography—or EEG— to study the way young children process words. Specifically, they are studying event-related potentials—brain responses that are the result of sensory, cognitive, or motor events.

It’s the first such lab in a college of education in the U.S. that studies brain activity in children as young as 12 months.  The children sit on a parent’s lap while 64 sensors are placed on their head using something resembling a hair net. As researchers read real and non-real words, they record children’s brain responses.


What is autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), describes a set of behaviors associated with specific differences in how the brain perceives and processes environmental input.

1 in 68
children have been identified with ASD.

Boys: 1 in 42 | Girls: 1 in 189
It’s around 4.5 times more common among boys than girls.
of children with ASD have average to above-average intellectual ability.

Source: Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network


How is autism diagnosed?buckets that say social communication and behavior, with strands of paper in them

Autism Spectrum Disorder is diagnosed by looking at criteria in two categories: Social Communication and Behavior.

What are the major transitions in the life of someone with autism?

1. Diagnosis (Typically age 2-4)

Research has shown that most children are diagnosed with ASD around age 4, though a diagnosis of autism at age 2 can be reliable, valid, and stable.

2. Transition to Schooling (typically age 5-6)

Parents and guardians begin to navigate the school system.

3. Transition to postsecondary life (typically age 18-22)

Early interventions, public awareness and K-12 support have increased educational opportunities for children with autism. But what are the options for life after high school?

An illustration of the progression of a child's age

Applied Research

Bluebonnet Trails

The Department of Special Education collaborates with Bluebonnet Trails Community Services in Georgetown. This collaboration allows doctoral and master’s students to provide family-centered applied behavior analysis (ABA) in home and community settings for children between the ages of 3 and 15 who have a diagnosis of autism and live in Williamson, Travis and surrounding counties.

Programs are embedded into daily routines. Graduate students may accompany a family to the grocery store to work on making a successful shopping trip, or to the library to follow rules in the community related to staying with a parent.

This collaboration offers families interventions that reduce challenging behaviors and increase and improve communication, daily living skills, and abilities related to health and safety. They also increase social opportunities that children and young teens have through their relationships at home and in the community.

The result is long-lasting change. Parents learn to implement strategies rooted in behavioral principles that are supported by applied research in the field of autism, behavior analysis, and special education.

“Families get immediate solutions to challenging behaviors that may be occurring throughout the day. Our children learn skills and behaviors that support higher learning at home, in the community, and at school.” – Suzy Albarran, BCBA Second-year doctoral student, Field Supervisor, Bluebonnet Trails


“Everyone I worked with helped my family so much. My child is now able to take care of his basic needs without my help because of their guidance and interventions.” – Noemi,mother of child with Autism

Next Generation Research

Special Education graduates are leading research at major universities across the country, including:

A U.S. map with a star in texas and numbers throughout the country

  1. Wendy Machalicek, M.Ed, ’04, Ph.D., ’08, University of Oregon—Effective behavior analytic assessment practices and interventions addressing the behavioral and educational needs of young children with ASD and other developmental disabilities.
  2. Mandy Rispoli, M.Ed. ’04, Ph.D. ’09, Purdue—Functional behavior assessment and function-based intervention for challenging behavior in children with ASD and developmental disabilities
  3. Helen Malone, Ph.D. ’05, Ohio State University— Teaching new skills to individuals with severe to profound disabilities and assessment/ treatment of challenging behaviors
  4. Colin Muething, Ph.D. ’16, Emory University— Novel treatments for severe problem behavior, the mechanisms that mediate their effectiveness and reporting large outcomes from these treatments
  5. Tonya Davis, Ph.D. ’08, Baylor University— Treatment of severe challenging behavior among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Beyond Autism

Faculty in the Department of Special Education and its associated centers provide research across the spectrum of learning and behavioral disorders—focused on topics like intensive math and reading interventions, design and evaluation of assistive technology, supporting bilingual students, and the transition to post-school employment for people with disabilities.

Research on learning and behavioral disorders is a growing need. In 2014–15, 13 percent of all public school students—ages 3–21—received services for learning disabilities and/or behavior disorders.  Learning disabilities in particular are the most prevalent; children with learning disabilities represent more than one-third of all school-age students with disabilities.