Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Meet a Roadrunner: Grad student Gabriela Calderon empowers kids with autism

Meet a Roadrunner: Grad student Gabriela Calderon empowers kids with autism

Gabriela Calderon came to UTSA to learn how to help children with autism manage social settings.

(Oct. 25, 2017) -- Meet Gabriela Calderon. The master’s student came to UTSA to study Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), an approach that is making a world of difference in the lives of children with autism.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects one in 68 children and is characterized by social and communication delays or deficits, and restricted and repetitive behaviors. Youth with autism often experience challenges socially, in school and with feeding.

To help children with autism manage social settings, Board Certified Behavioral Analysts (BCBAs) use ABA, an evidence-based approach, to maximize learning in ways that other instructional approaches typically cannot achieve.

Calderon became intrigued with ABA through her volunteer work. For five consecutive summers, she has been an assistant in the Laredo-based “Superheroes Social Skills” program. The special education program teaches social skills that can be used in a variety of settings to children and teens with autism.

“I’ve always wanted to work with challenging behaviors. Once I learned about Applied Behavioral Analysis and what it was all about, it called me,” said Calderon. “Board Certified Behavior Analysts are really good at assessing and treating challenging behavior.”

As Calderon was finishing up her bachelor’s degree and preparing to teach, she began looking for graduate programs in ABA. Her search led her to UTSA and the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching.

Today, Calderon is a graduate research assistant in the university’s TEAM Autism Research Center, where she is pursuing an intensive practicum and conducting research to assist UTSA Assistant Professor of Special Education Bryant Silbaugh.

Together, Calderon and Silbaugh are laying the groundwork for Project FEED, a new clinic at UTSA that will help children with autism who are experiencing clinically significant feeding disorders. Leading up to the launch of the clinic, Calderon is reviewing the scientific literature. Once the clinic opens and new treatment studies get underway, she will work with undergraduate UTSA students to collect and graph behavioral data as they learn about the effects of the treatments.

“Something I like about my intensive practicum is that I get new experiences every day,” said Calderon. “As a graduate research assistant, I have learned new concepts about feeding disorders and how to incorporate ABA into feeding treatments. I am excited to continue learning more about the correlation between autism and feeding through hands-on opportunities as I work toward my master’s degree over the next two years.”

Once Calderon earns her degree and her BCBA certification, she will join a much-needed group of professionals trained to serve youth with autism. 

In Bexar County alone, families have been known to wait for more than a year to see health care professionals trained in ABA.

- Christi Fish

Do you know a Roadrunner who is achieving great things? Email us at social@utsa.edu so that we may consider your suggestion for our next installment of Meet a Roadrunner.

Learn more about the Silbaugh Behavior Research Group and UTSA’s TEAM Autism Research Center.

Stay up to date on autism-related education and research at UTSA (@abaatutsa).

Connect with UTSA online at Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo and Instagram.