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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.
44%
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.

Special Education Professor Searches for Math Disability, Symbols Connection

Recent studies suggest that between 5 and 9 percent of school age children struggle with some form of math learning disability. Sometimes called “dyscalculia,” difficulty with mathematics encompasses a range of symptoms, including trouble understanding and manipulating numbers, and learning mathematic facts.

Over the last 30 years, copious research has been conducted on reading disabilities, while studies of math-specific learning disabilities are fewer and farther between. Sarah Powell, a second-year assistant professor in the Department of Special Education, is working to change that.

“Math is nowhere near as researched as reading,” said Powell, whose interests include developing and testing interventions for students with mathematics difficulties. “You can ask lots of very interesting questions in math that no one has addressed before. Math has a much larger knowledge base that we need to figure out.”

Powell’s passion for mathematics developed early. “I was always much better at math than reading,” she said. “Which is odd, because my parents are both English teachers. But math makes sense to me. There’s always an answer in mathematics. That’s not always the case with reading. You can interpret ‘A’ in many different ways, but three plus four is always going to be seven.”

After beginning her career as a kindergarten teacher, Powell went on to earn her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University, where she honed her research skills as a project coordinator of grants related to word-problem solving and computation for elementary students. She found herself attracted to the idea of helping kids overcome learning disabilities that impede their math skills.

“Often when kindergartners and first graders experience trouble with math, they start to push it aside,” said Powell. “It snowballs so that you get second and third grade students saying, ‘I’m not good at math. I hate math.’”

“Math makes sense to me. There’s always an answer in mathematics. That’s not always the case with reading. You can interpret ‘A’ in many different ways, but three plus four is always going to be seven.” – Dr. Sarah Powell

Powell’s doctoral dissertation, which won awards from the Division for Learning Disabilities of the Council for Exceptional Children and the Council for Learning Disabilities, focused on the equal sign as it relates to students with math difficulties. “99 percent of kids misinterpret the equal sign,” said Powell, whose previous research on the subject revealed that when asked to provide a definition of the equal sign, most kids had no idea how to answer. “Equal is almost a word you use that has very little meaning. In Asian countries, when they talk about the equal sign, the interpretation is ‘same sign,’ so instead of six plus two equals eight, it’s six plus two is the same as eight. In the U.S., it’s very different.”

“I did a textbook analysis two years ago and discovered that textbooks don’t do a good job of providing accurate definitions. Some textbooks would actually say ‘Equal sign means where we put our answer.’ That’s not what equal sign means at all. I wondered if we provided instruction on the equal sign as balance – if that would improve kids’ equation solving. We found that kids who received equal sign instruction showed improvement in equation solving, which in turn mediated word-problem performance.”

Since joining the Special Education faculty at the College of Education last fall, Powell has distinguished herself as a motivated interventionist. In recent months she received two prestigious honors: a Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Greater Texas Foundation Faculty Fellowship. The Spencer Fellowship will allow Powell to investigate elementary and middle school students’ understanding of math symbols and vocabulary, while the Greater Texas Foundation Fellowship gives her the opportunity to look at algebraic development of college level students with math difficulties.

“Both of these awards are highly competitive,” said Mark O’Reilly, chair of the Department of Special Education. “Sarah’s developing a line of research on interventions to remediate mathematics difficulties is important and timely.”

“I wrote the Spencer proposal not only to study students’ understanding of the equals sign, but to examine their understanding of all math symbols,” said Powell. “I’m hoping to learn which math symbols cause the most difficulty.”

The Spencer Fellowship provides funding for a two-year project. Powell will do assessments during the first year and devote the second year to developing interventions. Research involving first graders will focus on basic math signs like plus, minus, and equal, while work involving third, fifth, and seventh graders will focus on more complex signs like multiplication symbols and inequality symbols like greater than or equal to.

The Greater Texas Foundation grant, which Powell will work on concurrently with the Spencer Foundation grant, will explore very different territory. “During the three-year project, I plan to work with college students with math disabilities or difficulties — a sample of students that is rarely studied,” she said. “I want to learn how the math performance and math experiences of college students contribute to preparation for and success in college.”

Powell hopes her research helps to increase students’ confidence in math by providing better instruction. “The research shows that when students perform better in math they feel better about their math abilities. It’s all linked.”

With classroom teaching experience in her background, Powell has enormous respect for teachers, but she relishes the different responsibilities her career in higher education provides.

“A few weeks ago I was in a fourth grade classroom working with teachers and students,” she said. “But then I get to come back to the office and figure out, ‘Okay, what are we learning from that?’ I love connecting those pieces.”

Photo by: Christina S. Murrey

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.

Special Education Professor Investigates the Positive Effects of Teacher-Student Relationship

“Psychosocial,” the intertwining of the psychological and social aspects of an environment, is a term not usually associated with classroom education. We often think of classrooms simply as utilitarian environments, like offices or conference rooms — places where instruction is dispensed to waiting minds.

The truth is that a classroom is an environment every bit as alive and complex as other social environments and, in fact, is the primary social environment for developing children. The delicate balance of relationships in a classroom – between students, and between teachers and students – can make the difference between academic achievement or disappointment.

This dynamic is no surprise to Jessica Toste, a second-year assistant professor in the Department of Special Education.

“My work is centered on the idea that consideration of psychosocial factors, such as motivational beliefs, is essential to understanding how students learn,” she said. “The focus of my interests is in understanding psychosocial processes for kids who struggle with reading.”

With a background as an elementary school teacher and reading specialist, Toste is passionate about utilizing psychosocial elements of classrooms to better serve students.

Toy Dice“I’m very interested in how we support kids with learning difficulties,” said Toste. “Alongside that, I’m very interested in psychosocial processes. What’s happening in classrooms that makes it more likely that kids will succeed, especially those students who are struggling?”

Toste’s approach to studying teacher-student relationship is unique. While working on her dissertation, she delved into the counseling psychology literature and was intrigued to find that the concept of a therapeutic working alliance (the relationship between a healthcare professional and a client) had clear parallels to the classroom environment.

“The idea of the therapist and client having a strong working alliance is one of the main things that’s focused on in therapy,” said Toste. “The way we talk about teacher-student relationship is usually very focused on an emotional attachment between the teacher and student. I have worked with enough students and teachers to know that this emotional attachment can be very difficult, and that sometimes teachers have a hard time connecting with students in this way.”

Toste focused on borrowing the idea of the therapeutic working alliance, which includes both the affective and collaborative components of the relationship.

“I applied this idea to a classroom context and developed the classroom working alliance. Looing at relationships through this lens sets up an environment where teachers can naturally connect and bond with kids,” she said. “But they can also create collaborative partnerships where students feel very invested in what’s happening in their learning and in the classroom.”

That initial investigation led to some of her recent publications, which examine classroom working alliance for children with and without high-incidence disabilities, i.e. learning disabilities and behavior disorders.

“We looked at teacher and student ratings of classroom working alliances, and then at how they were predictive of different school outcomes,” Toste said. “Not surprisingly, kids who had difficulties had more challenging relationships with their teachers.”

What Toste found particularly interesting was that students with high-incidence disabilities demonstrated greater overall satisfaction with school, as well as exhibited higher academic competence, when they felt they had a strong collaborative relationship with their teacher.

“When kids who struggle in school feel that they understand what they’re being asked to do, it can actually help them in their learning,” she said. “They understand that their teacher has their best interests at heart and, for a variety of reasons, they tend to have better outcomes.”

Toste is also examining psychosocial factors within the context of reading interventions. During the last school year, she ran a pilot randomized field trial that examined the effectiveness of a multi-syllabic word reading intervention for struggling third- and fourth-grade readers. The intervention featured an embedded motivational beliefs training element designed to restructure performance by enhancing and supporting behaviors that then enhance and support learning.

“When kids who struggle in school feel that they understand what they’re being asked to do, it can actually help them in their learning. They understand that their teacher has their best interests at heart and, for a variety of reasons, they tend to have better outcomes.” – Dr. Jessica Toste

“The project has two pieces,” said Toste. “We’re looking at whether or not the reading intervention worked first, and then whether or not having this added motivational training supported students’ learning even further.”

Evidence revealed that children who received the reading intervention outperformed control students on word reading measures. Toste also found that students who had the added motivational training outperformed controls on their sentence comprehension and reading attribution.

“The idea is that this embedded motivational beliefs training will foster an instructional environment that makes it more likely that students will respond to the intervention,” said Toste, who plans to re-run the study next year. “This year was a pilot to see if there’s potential. Next year, we’re going to scale it up with more students, and refine and expand the motivational beliefs training.”

From there, Toste plans to look at the development of psychosocial processes as they pertain to reading skills. Specific reading skills may then be identified as affecting various psychosocial factors like motivation, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.

“Struggling with reading is a huge risk factor for kids as they go through school,” she said. “They’re not able to successfully engage in the primary task of the early grades, learning how to read. And then as they get through third and fourth grade, when instruction is no longer focused on learning how to read, they’re now unable to access many tasks of school that involve text.”

For students struggling with reading, the results of Toste’s work could be life changing.

Sarah Powell

Sarah Powell, Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow

Sarah Powell, a first-year assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Special Education, has been named a Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow by the National Academy of Education (NAEd). Powell was among 25 honorees chosen from a pool of more than 200 applicants.

The prestigious Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship program supports early career scholars working in critical areas of education research. Fellowships, which carry awards of $55,000, are funded by a grant to the NAEd from the Spencer Foundation, a private foundation that supports research to improve education.

Powell’s research focuses on developing and testing interventions for students with mathematics difficulties. She is particularly interested in peer tutoring, word-problem solving, and the role of symbols for understanding mathematics. Powell was selected for the fellowship based on a two-year research proposal she submitted that asks how math symbol and vocabulary understanding influence math performance.

“I am extremely honored to receive this fellowship,” said Powell. “It will allow me to delve into the area of math symbols and vocabulary. By collecting data across four grade levels, I can learn how math symbol and vocabulary knowledge change from early elementary to late middle school. I hope this knowledge can be used to improve math instruction for students.”

Dr. Terry Falcomata’s involvement with education stretches back to his days as a seventh-grade language arts teacher. But it wasn’t until he tackled his master’s work in behavior analysis and training that he developed a passion for the research he currently pursues: assessment and treatment practices for challenging behavior exhibited by kids with autism and developmental disabilities.

One of Falcomata’s current focuses is a collaboration between the College of Education’s Department of Special Education with Bluebonnet Trails Community Service. Falcomata supervises a team of doctoral students who conduct a two-pronged assistantship based on a combination of research and in-home clinical work with children who demonstrate challenging behaviors and other skills deficits.

What is the Bluebonnet Trail Community Service?

It’s a community-based organization that provides services to individuals across eight counties. Bluebonnet has several services including ones that focus on early childhood intervention, mental health services, and autism services. We’ve partnered with the autism services program.

How is the work structured?

Ten hours of the assistantship is dedicated to clinical work in which our doctoral students work with families that are referred to our group. Typically, the focus has been on assessment and treatment for challenging behavior, but we’ve also worked with children and families on other skill areas such as self-care, toilet training, and other family priorities. The other 10 hours of the assistantships are dedicated to research activities, which gives us the opportunity to pursue our research agenda. This typically overlaps with our clinical work in assessment and treatment practices for challenging behavior. An advantage we get from the partnership is the opportunity to conduct research with families in the home and in the schools.

“Our results have consistently shown that children with little or no communication abilities can be taught communicative skills that replace their challenging behavior.”

What is your role in this project?

I supervise the work of the doctoral students. I also provide training when Bluebonnet requests some additional help. They call me into some cases to assist when they feel the circumstances are particularly difficult. We had a child recently who refused to go to school and had not been to school for an extended period of time due to his behavior. Two of my students and I developed a plan in conjunction with Angel Filer, a Bluebonnet BCBA. We arrived at the house at 7 a.m. every morning for about a week and a half and provided assistance to the family in implementing the plan. We taught them how to transition the child and actually rode with him in the family’s car to school, helped transition him into the school, and then faded ourselves so the family could provide that support themselves.

The program helps evaluate potential assessment and treatment practices in the community. Have you reached any conclusions or results along those lines?

Our results have consistently shown that children with little or no communication abilities can be taught communicative skills that replace their challenging behavior. We just completed a study in which we were able to teach children to vary their use of different modalities of communication. We have been researching some procedures that so far have been effective in facilitating children’s use of appropriate communication skills instead of challenging behavior by choosing from a selection of four to five other communication options when one fails to produce the outcome the child is requesting. The data showed that by teaching several different modalities of communication the children would use the appropriate communication instead of reengaging in challenging behaviors. And this delayed the reemergence of those challenging behaviors.

What is most rewarding for you personally about your involvement with this project?

It’s gratifying to see the doctoral students’ growth as clinicians and researchers and to see the interaction between them and the families as success is achieved with the children. It’s rewarding to participate in the process of identifying why the child is engaging in those challenging behaviors and then implement a treatment that teaches them to communicate. And then, to see the child start using appropriate communication and the parents’ excitement — we were part of that. It’s just a really powerful thing.

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

 

Helen MaloneYour story
I entered the doctoral program in 2002 after working as an in-home behavior specialist and teacher at the California School for the Blind, where I taught students with severe and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities. I constantly struggled with the idea that I wasn’t able to impact the lives of as many people with disabilities as I had hoped, and I felt somewhat isolated in my practice. I believed that entering a doctoral program would teach me how to reach a broader audience, and as a result positively impact more students with significant disabilities.

Why UT?
The special education program at UT Texas offered such a vast array of opportunities to me. I was given opportunities to work with students with various disabilities and hone in on the population of students I most enjoy working with; those with severe and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition to other world class faculty in the program, I was able to work closely with Mark O’Reilly and Jeff Sigafoos, developing my skills as a teacher and researcher. Through them, I learned to critically analyze the problems surrounding students with disabilities and develop solid research studies that would have positive impacts for the students while also adding to the field.

Life After UT
When I graduated I moved to Columbus, Ohio, and joined the faculty in special education at The Ohio State University, where I continue to conduct research with students with severe and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities and teach courses in applied behavior analysis and those related to severe and profound disabilities. I am in regular contact with my advisers and colleagues from the program, and use them as resources. The relationships I built at UT — both personally and professionally — have been some of the best.

Advice for Students
I would advise students to be open to new ideas and perspectives on the problems faced in special education. Rather than relying on any one perspective alone, I would encourage students to be open to the possibility of viewing the problems they are researching from different perspectives in order to find other, potentially better, solutions. A willingness to accept other views will also increase the potential of collaborating with others who see the same problems differently.

Spare time is a rare commodity in today’s increasingly busy world. With so many responsibilities vying for our attention, it can be difficult to make time for extracurricular activities such as volunteering in our communities and schools. One organization that has no trouble attracting help from all walks of life is The Autism Project (TAP).

An initiative within the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, TAP provides a center of services, knowledge, and best practices related to living and working with children who have autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The program helps families obtain referrals to neurologists, generate ideas for meet-up groups, access movement-based programs and participate in outings such as the popular Candlelight Ranch camping excursions.

“In addition to seeking services, UT graduates return to TAP to volunteer their time at our camps as mentors.”

Pamela Buchanan, a kinesiology lecturer and co-founder and director of TAP, has inspired numerous students to give their time to the project both in and out of school.

“Former students typically return to volunteer once they are teaching or are parents themselves to ask about their children’s needs,” she said. “We have several alumni who now have children with autism. Now they seek the same services they once provided.”

“In addition to seeking services, UT graduates return to TAP to volunteer their time at our camps as mentors,” said Buchanan. “Some graduates become partners in programs with TAP and others continue to share their video editing and promotion talents. Most importantly, it is the UT alumni who return with financial support to TAP that enable us to continue providing services to children and their families.”

Liza Karseno, a school math instructional specialist, is one UT Austin alumnus whose passion for the program has lasted past graduation. Karseno started working with TAP because it was a requirement for a kinesiology class taught by Buchanan, but she quickly found that she gained not only personal but also professional growth from her involvement.

“In my first year of teaching I had a student with autism in my class,” she said. “I was able to use a lot of things I had learned from TAP to deal with a student with special needs in a general education classroom. That prompted me to go back and continue to volunteer with the program.”

Every year Karseno takes one of her own students on the Candlelight Ranch camping excursion and participates in any additional program events she can make the time for.

“Some of the things that I’ve learned with TAP have proven to be very beneficial as I work with special needs,” she said. “Because of that I feel like a continuing student who learns from Ms. Buchanan and [TAP co-founder and kinesiology professor] Dr. Jensen whenever I go back and spend time with them.”

Arturo Cisneros is a Youth and Community Studies major who will be graduating this May. Like Karseno, he was first exposed to TAP through one of Buchanan’s kinesiology courses. After his first volunteer weekend at Candlelight Ranch he was hooked.

“At the end of it I was amazed by the amount of growth I saw in these kids in just one weekend,” said Cisneros. “After that I said, ‘If I can be an agent for that much change in one weekend, I want to keep doing this.’ That is what kept me going back.”

Despite taking a heavy 22-hour class load, Cisneros continues to volunteer his time to TAP with no plans of stopping after graduation.

“Right now we’re just a small Austin-based organization,” he said. “I want to be part of the reason it grows. I want to make it so more kids can get involved.”


Arturo CisnerosArturo Cisneros

Youth and Community Studies Major
Class of 2014

What inspired you to volunteer your time?

“When I first started it was through a kinesiology course that I was taking. There were requirements for volunteering for at least one event. I went to an overnight camping event at Candlelight Ranch. It was a tough weekend but I learned a lot. As difficult a time as I had, at the end of it I was amazed by the amount of growth that I saw. After that I said, ‘If I can be an agent for that much change in one weekend I want to keep doing this.’ That is what kept me going back.”


Liza KarsenoLiza Karseno

Youth and Community Studies Major
Current AISD math instructional specialist
Class of 2006

Why do you give back to your alma mater?

“I volunteered when I was a student, but after graduation, during my first year of teaching, I had a student with autism in my class. I found I was able to use a lot of the things I had learned from my time with TAP that I could apply to my classroom. That prompted me to return and continue to volunteer with the program. Some of the things that I’ve learned proved to be very beneficial to working with students with special needs in the general education classroom.”

Find out more about TAP here.