NOVEMBER 19, 2021 — Researchers from the UTSA College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Educational Psychology were awarded a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for Project EARLY (Evidence-based Action, Research and Learning to support Young children with or at risk for autism).
UTSA researchers will use the funding to help meet the nation’s shortage of therapists who are trained to treat children with neurodivergent disorders.
“Both school psychologists and applied behavioral analysts have documented shortages, but there are even fewer professionals who possess competencies and credentialing across both specialty areas,” said Felicia Castro-Villarreal, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and co-principal investigator of the grant. “Project EARLY seeks to address this professional need by increasing the quantity and enhancing the quality of providers available to offer comprehensive services for children with autism.”
Graduate students who participate in Project EARLY will complete cooperative coursework in school psychology and applied behavior analysis (ABA) while engaging in innovative professional learning communities. Cross-disciplinary coursework will include experiential learning experiences at the UTSA Autism Treatment Center and the autism diagnostic clinic at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. UTSA graduates will also complete school consultation projects and competencies through the City of San Antonio’s Early Head Start Program.
“School psychologists with advanced training in ABA are vital in our school districts, as they are often at the front line of early assessment and evaluation for students in need of special education services,” said Hannah MacNaul, a co-principal investigator on the grant. “Moreover, behavior analysts with specialized training in school psychology, including culturally-responsive intervention and consultation, will lead to long-term collaboration efforts within schools and across a variety of settings resulting in positive outcomes for individuals with autism.”
UTSA graduate students selected to participate in Project EARLY will complete a paid internship at the Autism Treatment Center and receive other financial incentives totaling over $25,000. Upon completion of the program, students will be eligible to sit for the qualifying exams necessary for state and national credentials.
UTSA educational psychology faculty expect to begin admitting their first cohort of students in fall 2022.
Project EARLY is representative of the educational psychology department’s long history of interdisciplinary collaboration. The hands-on learning experiences available to students provide them with the opportunity to work with and learn from each other and with leading experts in fields related to the assessment and treatment of autism.
UTSA is an urban serving university focused on driving San Antonio’s knowledge economy and living out the notion that great universities need great cities and great cities need great universities. It is on track to attain National Research University Fund (NRUF) eligibility and R1 designation by the Carnegie Commission.
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