UTSA autism center will provide low-cost services for San Antonio children

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(Jan. 24, 2013) -- The UTSA College of Education and Human Development announces a new center focused on addressing the needs of children with autism. The new Teacher Education Autism Model (TEAM) Center will support teachers working with children with autism, while providing low-cost services to Bexar County families in need of applied behavior analysis services.

The overarching goal of the TEAM Center is to increase the number of Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) serving greater San Antonio. In addition to providing applied behavior analysis therapy to children with autism and their families, the TEAM Center will provide to pre-services teachers the opportunity to work directly with students with autism and will serve as a research laboratory for determining effective teaching practices.

>> UTSA will celebrate the launch of the TEAM Center at an open house from 4 to 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 24 in Durango Building Room 0.220 at the UTSA Downtown Campus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in 88 American children had autism in 2012. This equates to roughly 730,000 children across the nation and nearly 30,000 children in Texas, a 400-percent increase over the last 10 years. In San Antonio, 2,602 students received special education services for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) during the 2010-2011 school year. Hispanics currently account for the fastest-growing ASD population.

Pediatricians and other physicians can generally diagnose autism by a child's third birthday. While children with autism can be either low- or high-functioning, most children with autism display communication skill deficits, social skill deficits, and restricted and repeated interests. Forty percent of children with autism spectrum disorders never learn to talk, while 46 percent do not finish high school.

An autism diagnosis can prove very costly. While insurance often covers some treatment, families can generate up to $2.3 million in treatment costs over the lifetime of an individual with autism.

"Aside from a handful of great centers that generally serve military families on the North Side, it is difficult for Bexar County families to find affordable services to help children with autism," said Lee Mason, UTSA assistant professor of special education. "It is our hope that the TEAM Center will ease the burden for local families who are seeking early intensive behavioral intervention for their children."

The TEAM Center is designed to work like a teaching hospital, providing low-cost Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) services to children up to age five with the goal of improving their learning outcomes. Applied Behavioral Analysis is a scientifically valid method shown to support children with a variety of autism spectrum disorders. UTSA graduate students in special education will offer the ABA services with oversight from faculty in the UTSA Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching.

Children with autism who receive services from the TEAM Center will receive a functional behavioral assessment and a verbal behavior screening that will allow UTSA graduate students to develop individualized, semester-long plans to address the specific needs of each child. Throughout the semester, the children will receive up to seven-and-a-half hours of ABA therapy, five times per week in 90-minute sessions. UTSA also will work with the parents and guardians of the children. At the end of the semester, the progress of each child will be evaluated and the participants will be discharged from the program.

Aspiring Board Certified Behavioral Analysts must complete 1,500 hours of field experience and pass the Board Certified Behavioral Analyst Exam before they can practice in the field independently. While working in the TEAM Center, UTSA graduate students will take a series of courses to prepare them to enter the field, the first such sequence of courses approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board at a San Antonio university or college.

UTSA is now enrolling children for the spring 2013 semester. Families interested in receiving services for their children in the TEAM classroom, should visit the UTSA TEAM website. Additionally, the center will offer trainings to provide teachers with the tools they need to successfully work with their students with autism. Teachers should watch the UTSA TEAM website for details.

The TEAM Center was developed in larger part by UTSA faculty Lee Mason and Maria Kaylor. Mason is a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA-D) whose research expertise focuses on children with autism. An associate professor, Kaylor specializes in the preparation of beginning special education teachers. Impact San Antonio has provided initial funding to support the launch of this center.

To learn more about the TEAM classroom or to support the center, contact Lee Mason at 210-458-2007 or visit the UTSA TEAM website.