Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Autism Grant Increases Hands-on Training Opportunities for Students in Therapy and Education

A major breakthrough came this spring when a severely autistic student in one of our high schools made the connection to use a set of "Go Talk Ones" for his communication development. We had tried several different ideas that incorporated assistive technology to help this boy develop a system to communicate and be able to do more than busy tasks. The special education teacher, the autism specialist and the occupational therapist had pulled me in several times to work on initiating some kind of tool. They started with picture symbol recognition and a reward system, and you can imagine how excited everyone was to see the Go Talk One click for him. We began to see meaningful and purposeful communication start to be initiated by him. We now have a foundation to see where it might take him in further communication development and more advanced AAC down the road.

My work in assistive technology involves collaboration with autism therapists working on a way to build communication skills in students and find tools to engage and teach them. Each student is unique and no method or tools set combination works the same twice. I also integrate AT with teachers that range from being completely comfortable with autism, to ones that don't know where to begin when it comes to working with students with autism. Our autism specialists work very hard to support students and try to give tips and training to the special ed and regular ed teachers. I was very excited to hear about the grant funding that is going into training future teachers in methods and actual hands-on experience with autism in the classroom.

The foundation, Autism Speaks, has given $20,000 to The University of Central Florida (see article) to use in their Real Experience in Autism Classroom's Helps program that will put 50 to 100 budding student teachers in real classroom situations with 10 to 20 autism specialists in the school system. The goal is to give them tools to use with autistic students and a background of experience to help them feel more comfortable when working with these students in the future.

I am excited to see these collaborative efforts and I am glad to see that folks believe in the benefit of giving students these kinds of experiences. Having a diverse experience in college to see first-hand some of the techniques and skills needed to work effectively in Autism will be huge plus for these students.

I was very impressed with the Autism Speaks site. Take some time to go there and browse their resources. They have a video archive, which is being updated and not available at this time, but will be back I am sure. There is a glossary of definitions and a link to a list of research programs that parents can get involved in as active participants. There are family resources and an interactive network for resources as well. This should be on any parent of an autistic child's list as a resource site for learning and being involved in Autism awareness and advocacy.

All the best to you!


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