Autism center awarded $188,000 state grant


Auburn’s Autism Center recently received a $188,000 grant from the state Office of Special Education. The three-year subsidy is part of a state improvement grant for special education. The University’s center opened in January to serve children and families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The disorder affects children’s communication skills. Symptoms include difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication and social interactions. Dr. Robert Simpson, co-director of the Autism Center and professor of special education, said he hopes it meets families’ needs. She said the center could reach 600 children this school year with the grant money. The Autism Center is unique in its individual therapy approach, said Dr. Caroline Gomez, the center’s co-director. Its students interact with each other and with peers who do not have the disorder, which she said is important. “With this grant we can focus on Alabama,” Gomez said. “We will be able to hire two outreach consultants for families and teachers.” Auburn city schools donated space for the center, housed at Yarbrough Elementary School. Autistic children ages 3 to 5 participate in a typical preschool setting at the center. Simpson said the center began as a program in Auburn’s department of special education and rehabilitation. It originally trained master’s-level students in a four-week summer program, but now teachers participate in a regular school term based on the Auburn city school system.
“We use an integrated approach,” Gomez said. “We implement philosophies based on a child’s specific needs. For every one (teacher), there are two children. The children get a more individualized approach, and that’s what the parents want.” The center has benefitted from private funding, but Gomez said the center couldn’t exist without grants it receives. Jennifer Muller, executive director of the Autism Society of Alabama, said Alabama families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder don’t have many choices when it comes to care providers. Muller said the state’s Autism Society, which provides information and referrals as well as education and advocacy to Alabamians, receives approximately 3,000 calls a year and sends out about 10 booklets a month to newly diagnosed families. The American Society of Autism states 1.5 million Americans are believed to have some form of the disorder. The U.S. Department of Education shows the number of people in Alabama identified with the disorder has grown from 68 in 1992-1993 to 904 in 2001-2002.

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