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UTSA training researchers to improve care for children with autism in Japan

UTSA training researchers to improve care for children with autism in Japan

Researcher hopes pilot program can become international treatment model

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(June 9, 2016) -- Leslie Neely, assistant professor of educational psychology at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), will provide top-tier training to researchers and volunteers from Japan in methods to help improve social behaviors in children with autism in their country.

“It’s a great honor to share the top-tier expertise we have here at UTSA with Japan,” Neely said. “I believe we are forging a strong connection and are at the forefront of helping other researchers meet the needs of children around the world with autism and developmental disabilities."

Neely is the coordinator for the UTSA Applied Behavior Analysis graduate certification program and a doctoral-level board certified behavior analyst. Her approach, applied behavior analysis (ABA), involves understanding a child’s behavior and modifying the environment in order to help improve social and communication skills, reduce challenging behavior and improve academic behavior. 

According to Neely, ABA therapy can be immensely helpful for autism or developmental disabilities, but it is not employed in many countries due a number of factors, including cultural barriers, lack of funding, or a lack of training and education about the needs of children with autism or developmental disabilities.  

“There is a desperate need in these countries for training and education in care for children with autism,” said Neely. “Unfortunately, there aren’t enough certified experts available to train or educate others. My partners and I hope to create a culturally responsive model that can address those needs.”

In the fall, Neely and her collaborator, Ee Rea Hong from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, will begin the initial training sessions for what they are calling the Global ABA Project. The project's goal is to craft a culturally sensitive training and education model using specialized therapy methods for children with autism that can be replicated by local organizations.

At last count, said Neely, there were only approximately 13 ABA experts in Japan who are certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, an international non-profit which oversees behavior analysts. A 2004 report by the Japanese Autism Association stated that about 360,000 individuals in Japan had been diagnosed with autism. 

“Most of Japan’s behavior analysts are tied to research hospitals or universities,” Neely said. “So, as much as they might like to, they often cannot provide direct services or education on ABA therapy to communities, especially those living in rural towns or cities." 

Following the fall collaboration, Neely and Hong will meet with researchers in Brazil led by Siglia Hoher Camargo from the University of Pelotas to continue the project. Neely hopes that the project can be adapted to serve the needs of other countries and cultures.

The UTSA Applied Behavior Analysis graduate certificate program provides current and prospective students with the knowledge and skills to develop proficiency in applied behavior analysis. The certificate is especially tailored for educational psychology and special education professionals. 

In addition to the ABA certificate program, UTSA is home to multiple top-tier behavioral laboratories, such as the SAABA project and TEAM Center, where faculty and students serve the needs of children with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities while conducting top-tier research.

By Jesus Chavez
Public Affairs Specialist

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Learn more about how UTSA is leading the way in using applied behavior analysis to meet the needs of children with disabilities through the UTSA Applied Behavior Analysis graduate certificate program.

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