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More than 100 families with children with autism and developmental disabilities have received clinical services from a partnership between the College of Education’s Department of Special Education and Austin Travis County Integral Care (ATCIC). Andrew and his family are one example of the power of the partnership.
 
Audio slideshow: Christina S. Murrey
Narrated by: Taylor Rowland, special education graduate student and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist
 

The Department of Special Education and Travis County join forces to help families with children with autism

When the College of Education’s Department of Special Education launched a modest partnership with Austin Travis County Integral Care (ATCIC) eight years ago, no one could have foreseen the robust, multi-faceted program it would blossom into by 2014.

“There’s a symbiotic relationship between us and ATCIC that’s been there from the beginning,” said Dr. Mark O’Reilly, chair of the Department of Special Education.

Under O’Reilly’s guidance, the department had recently established one of the first U.S. graduate training programs to specialize in preparing special educators, psychologists, and speech pathologists to work with children with autism and developmental disabilities and their families.

At the same time, ATCIC, a community-based behavioral health and developmental disabilities service provider, was struggling to provide enough board-certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) to serve its growing population of in-need families.

“An efficient and effective training program needs more than just ivory tower instruction. We have to link with those practices and we have to influence the community in positive ways.”

“We reached out to them and they reached out to us,” said O’Reilly. “We thought it would be essential as part of that curriculum to partner with community programs that actually deliver services to families who had children with autism. An efficient and effective training program needs more than just ivory tower instruction. We have to link with those practices and we have to influence the community in positive ways.”

At the outset the terms of the project were limited in scope: ATCIC would fund one University of Texas doctoral student to provide 20 hours a week of behavior supports for program families. Ten hours would be clinical services to families and the other 10 would fund student research.

This was a tall order, considering that challenging behavior and communication issues included potty training, eating difficulties, sensory issues, aggressive behavior, and self-injury.

“He came in and served as many people as he could, working in one little office downstairs,” said Maya Vega ATCIC Director of Intellectual and Developmental Services. “But the services that one UT Austin doctoral candidate was providing for this collaboration were of such high quality that we knew this was a relationship we needed to nourish and continue.”

Since then the Department of Special Education/ATCIC partnership has grown to include several separate and distinct branches that employ the skills of four to five doctoral students and about 10 masters students annually. In the eight years the program has been in place more than 100 children have received services.

“It’s basically four programs,” said Cindy Gevarter, a doctoral student in special education who supervises the program’s recently implemented Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program. “Behavior supports is where the program initially started. Doc students would go out, write behavior plans and do short-term follow-ups. But now that we have more support we’re able to actually go in to a home setting and teach a family how to implement those behavior plans instead of just saying ‘Here you go.’” The ECI program provides in-home behavior therapy for children ages 0-3.

Now, in addition to the long-standing behavior supports program, the partnership features an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) autism program, the ECI program, and a social skills program that is geared up to start this spring.

Both the ABA and ECI programs provide children from low-income families with free or reduced-cost behavior services in the home. Both approach therapy in a naturalistic manner, although ECI tends to involve more on-the-go parental interaction.

“With the autism program we do a formal assessment and then put together individualized programs from that assessment,” said Laura Rojeski, a doctoral student in special education and manager of the ABA program. “We might have 10 to 30 goals for a kid depending on his level of functioning, and we’re working on those and taking data on those. We’re always trying to do things in a more naturalistic way, making sure we’re not just sitting at a table, but with our 3-6 year-old population it’s a bit more structured.”

“With the ECI program it’s mandated by law that the parents must be part of the training,” said Gevarter. “It has to be what’s called ‘vetted instruction.’ If the natural routine for mom is to play for 20 minutes, have snack time, and then go outside, we’re following that. We’re not saying to mom, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do.’ We’re figuring out how we can work within routines that are already happening.”

The success stories that stem from these programs are manifold.

“We used to not hear from families,” said Vega, “but now we hear from them all the time. We have individuals who are using zero ability to communicate verbally who start working with these clinicians and a few months later they have a vocabulary of 20 words.”

Cassandra Medrano is just one parent who has seen life-changing positive results. Her four-year-old son Andrew has been involved with the ATCIC program for more than a year, and in that time has progressed from being almost completely non-verbal to signing and talking more frequently. Thanks to the hands-on therapy his behavior issues have also quieted.
“He’s actually around other kids without temper tantrums,” said Medrano. “Now he’s side by side with them. He doesn’t lash out. He’s able to attend school and actually sit down for a good five to ten minutes and do activities.”

The relationship O’Reilly describes is beneficial to all involved. ATCIC’s stretched-thin staff gets much-needed support; doctoral students receive leadership and supervision opportunities; masters students gain learning opportunities and a chance to complete work toward their Behavior Analyst Certification; and the Department of Special Education builds research partnerships that help advance the field from an educational perspective. Most important, families struggling with the issue of autism are granted a ray of hope and a measure of success.

“We get excited to see the kids making progress, such as speaking their first word or using a communication device,” said Rojeski. “But sometimes parent’s reaction to that progress is the greatest thing. Seeing how excited the parent becomes when they watch their kid communicate, learn new skills and do something without behavior issues, that’s just incredible.”

In keeping with The University of Texas at Austin’s motto, “What starts here changes the world,” the unique Department of Special Education/ATCIC partnership’s influence has extended well beyond Travis County.

“It’s not just the here and now in terms of training,” said Dr. O’Reilly. “Doctoral students have flown out of here and have been very successful in terms of getting jobs at universities all around the nation and replicating this program.”


Student Spotlight

Interested in learning more about the Department of Special Education? Click here

Early Childhood Education Assistant Professor Jennifer Adair discusses how teachers and administrators can foster children’s natural leadership skills and sense of agency.

Angela Valenzuela, professor in both educational policy and planning and the educational administration departments, challenges educators to rethink hierarchal concepts of leadership and move toward one that incorporates communities and individuals.

Educational Administration Professor Mark Anthony Gooden, director of The University of Texas at Austin Principalship Program, discusses how the program prepares educators to become servant leaders who transform the education landscape.

Associate Professor Jill Marshall, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, discusses “stereotype threat’s” effect on student outcomes, the importance of helping students develop visual-spatial skills, and how reframing the teaching of math and science using project-based approaches can help engage underrepresented students.

Educational Psychology Professor Kevin Cokley explains how “imposter syndrome” can affect underrepresented students in STEM classes and what educators can do to help ward off its negative effects.

Associate Professor and Director of the Center for STEM Education Victor Sampson discusses how science teachers can modify how they teach to better engage every student in learning scientific methods and retaining content.

Louis Harrison & Martin Smith:

United by a love of sports and a drive to positively influence identity and diversity in the world of education, this team of two exudes a reciprocal energy that exemplifies the power of mentorship. A professor of cultural studies in education and physical education teacher education, Dr. Harrison notes that he gets just as much, if not more, out of his collaboration with Ph.D. student Martin Smith. Smith, who played basketball for UC-Berkeley and works with Harrison on the African American Male Research Initiative (AAMRI) at UT Austin, is a leader within the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Allison Skerrett & Thea Williamson:

Ever since Thea Williamson first met with Dr. Skerrett, it has been clear to both women that they share a dedication to meaningful academic research and social justice. As leaders within the UTeach Urban Teachers program, both women work together to support a new generation of specially trained and culturally sensitive educators. But in addition to their scholarly pursuits, Williamson, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Skerret, an associate professor of language and literacy studies, cooperate on a higher level. As mentorship partners, they are able to explore the challenges and rewards of higher education together.

Mary Steinhart & Matt Lehrer:

Matt Lehrer, who will soon earn his Master of Science in Health Behavior and Health Education, values mentorship as a critical facet of his education. Lehrer knows that his mentor, Dr. Steinhart, has been teaching him critical lessons that go beyond her specialties in health science. As a mentor, Steinhart is able to give Lehrer an insider’s view into her field, where she specializes in the association between psychology and the body’s physical reactions and resilience. But Steinhart is quick to point out that dedication and leadership like Lehrer’s is hard to find, and that she is learning and growing thanks to their partnership.

Preservice undergraduate teachers are paired with practicing mentors enrolled in the Teacher Mentoring, School Leadership & Professional Development program. Both are teachers, both are students, and both practice C.A.R.E. – a model of Critical, Appreciative, Reflective, and Experiential learning.


What is C.A.R.E?

Traditional models of teacher education often overlook two transformative powers: mentorship and experience. Without a mentor, new teachers might be left to flounder in their first years on the job, unable to access tools their seasoned peers take for granted. Similarly, teachers who lack a transitional, guided experience may be unprepared for the realities of leading a classroom.

This is why the College of Education is committed to supporting both preservice and current educators. Undergraduates preparing to enter the teaching workforce participate in a preservice preparation program that pairs them with a mentor teacher. That mentor is also enrolled as a student, and is seeking a master’s degree in Teacher Leadership, Mentoring and Professional Development.

Together, each pair of educators employs the C.A.R.E. model of learning which stands for “critical, appreciative, reflective, and experiential”.

The critical element is all about disrupting traditional power relationships. For example, a mentor teacher may wield his or her experience as an indicator of superiority, leaving a preservice teacher unable to interact as an equal. By engaging in problems of practice, a mentor teacher can instead offer evaluative feedback without disrupting a power balance.

Appreciative elements of the mentorship relationship focus on leading conversations with positives. Mentor teachers will point out what went well and seemed to work in the classroom, and ask the preservice teacher for input about what could have gone better. This leads to a reflective element. Both teachers are encouraged to discuss the reasoning behind their decision-making both during and after times of instruction.

The most powerful of these elements is experience. As with mentorship, learning by doing is the key to equipping new teachers with the tools they need to thrive as educators in their first years and beyond. By practicing the elements of successful mentorship, master’s students learn best practices for a career as an education leader.

Technology allows educators to gather data on student achievement, replace costly print textbooks with digital versions, and help teachers prepare innovative, interactive lessons. Listen to three experts describe how well-implemented, intelligently used technology can improve education.


Randy Bomer:

Dr. Bomer, who’s chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, proposes that smartly-used technology allows more students to get ideas out of their heads and in front of a broad audience – it also helps K-12 students become more digitally savvy in general, which gives them a leg up in college and their careers.


Joan Hughes:

Dr. Hughes, an associate professor in Curriculum and Instruction, believes that well-implemented technology can boost student interest, publishing, inquiry and motivation when it comes STEM content.


Cesar Delgado:

Dr. Delgado, an assistant professor in Curriculum and Instruction, suggests the biggest benefit of instructional technology is in how it helps students become better scientific investigators – they can explore topics that might otherwise be off-limits because of safety concerns, lack of physical proximity to the subject under investigation and time efficiency.


Norma Cantu:

Norma Cantu is a professor in educational administration as well as the School of Law. Here, she explains why it’s important to give parents data and allow them to make informed decisions about the schools their children attend.


Richard Reddick:

Richard Reddick is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration. He suggests that if schools invest in the community, build trust, value every student’s culture and background, and maintain high expectations for teachers and students, their students are more likely to academically thrive.


Jennifer Jellison Holme:

Jennifer Jellison Holme is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration, and she argues that reducing the levels of racial and economic segregation in schools is essential to providing high-quality learning experiences for students of color.


Terrance Green:

Terrance Green is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Administration, and he proposes that shifting from a deficit perspective to an asset-based perspective regarding students of color will help schools better assist these students.


Great education professionals have an enviable skill set – the ability to lead, be empathetic, inspire, motivate, communicate, strengthen, and ignite curiosity. Meet six of our alumni who rise to the challenge, bringing heart, soul, mind, and an indefatigable sense of mission to their work with students.

ALEX OLIVARES

Alex Olivares

UTeach, B.J., ‘08
Crockett High School

I got out of UTeach and thought, “Wow, none of that stuff’s ever going to work in the real world. It’s great and dandy if you have a special school with magnet and high level students, but in a normal environment it’s not going to apply.” As I taught for more and more years, I realized that it’s simply the way to teach. Slowly I incorporated the UTeach strategies more and more, and at this point almost all of my classes are problem- and inquiry-based. I understand the benefits of teaching this way, that it yields long-term learning benefits for the students.

KARINA REYNA

KARINA REYNA

Educational Psychology, B.S. ’03, M.Ed. ‘08
Bowie High School

I think the fact that my students are part of the post-9/11 generation has made them more resilient and better equipped to handle adversity when it inevitably comes along, and they seem to share this innate desire to better their communities. I learn from them every single day, and I actually feel privileged when they come to me for guidance – they seem so much better equipped, emotionally, than I was at that age.

 

REBECCA LAMBDIN-ABRAHAM

REBECCA LAMBDIN-ABRAHAM

Kinesiology and Health Education, B.S. ‘08
Wooldridge Elementary School

I am passionate about what I do and where I teach because I know that I can have a huge effect on the lives of all of my students. I am at a low-income, overcrowded school. I know that teaching these kids is not always the easiest thing, but this work is so important and being there to give them a smile every day makes each day worth it.

 

PAM DIU

PAM DIU

Special Education, B.S. ‘13
Hill Country Middle School

I’ve always had a unique compassion and place in my heart for individuals with disabilities. I love the underdog. I love looking at a person whom the world has categorized, judged, or dismissed and seeing the power and potential within them. I get to help draw out and develop the treasures inside each individual – those things that even their loved ones, may not see. Educators have been given the gift of eyes to see beauty in brokenness and strength in weakness, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a student grow in confidence, resilience, and self–esteem, and seeing how that impacts families and entire communities.

 

 

 

HANNAH NEAL

HANNA NEAL

Curriculum and Instruction, B.S. ‘11
Hill Elementary School

When I was in middle school, I visited and stayed at an orphanage with my church group in Querétaro, Mexico, to help improve the existing school grounds and living quarters. During my time there the orphanage needed a substitute teacher for the kindergarteners, so a friend and I volunteered. I didn’t know much Spanish at the time but was amazed at how we were still able to communicate and build meaningful relationships with those precious little ones. While sitting on the dirt floor, reading a picture book in Spanish to a little girl, I knew that I had to work with children for the rest of my life – it felt like I was made for teaching.

 

ANTHONY WATSON

ANTHONY WATSON

Educational Administration, M.Ed. ‘99
Stony Point High School

Being a school principal is a little like being a CEO because you have to build sustainable leadership and create systems that foster success. The goal of any business is profit – the goal of my school is student success. We study what our practices are and, like a successful business, we maximize those that lead to success and cease what leads to failure.

Depression isn’t the same for everyone – the way you experience it can vary according to your age, gender, and life circumstances. Three educational psychology researchers have been looking specifically at depression in men and young girls and at how to uncover depression in people who don’t even know they have it.


Aaron Rochlen:

Aaron Rochlen is an educational psychology professor whose research focuses on men’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Here, he explains how depression is different for men than it is for women and what can happen if men don’t get the help they need.

“There’s just a lot of stigma around men seeking help for any kinds of mental health problems as well as physical issues. While women have traditionally been diagnosed with depression 2-3 times more often than men, men are committing suicide at rates of 4-6 times more often.”


Kevin Stark:

Pediatric behavioral health expert Kevin Stark is nationally known for his research on depression in children. In this clip, he describes why it’s so important to catch depression early in girls and the best way of treating it.

“The rate of depression among females is at least twice that of males.”


Stephanie Rude:

Stephanie Rude examines ways of detecting depression in people who don’t realize they have depression and preventing recurrences of the condition. Find out the simple but revealing strategy she uses to uncover “masked” depression.

“When people are able to take a couple of steps back and see the difficult situations that they are in from a larger perspective – kind of a wide angle lens view – they seem to be able to realize that they are not the only ones suffering.”