Tuesday, September 13, 2022

UTSA awarded $900K THECB grant to serve over 1,500 children with autism

UTSA awarded $900K THECB grant to serve over 1,500 children with autism

SEPTEMBER 13, 2022 — Faculty from the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program at UTSA have been awarded a two-year, $900,000 stipend from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s (THECB) Autism Grant Program (AGP). The money will go towards developing new programs for children with autism, and towards preparing more educators to serve more than 1,500 children with autism in the San Antonio area.

Assistant professors Hannah MacNaul and Marie Kirkpatrick, were awarded $500,000 and $400,000, respectively, for their efforts to serve children with autism and to strengthen the support systems crucial to their success.

The award is representative of UTSA’s mission as a public research enterprise—with 2022 marking the seventh consecutive year that the ABA program has received AGP money. To date, the program has served over 1,800 families of children with autism.


“We want to make sure we have that connection with the community, that the community sees us as the beacon of light for training graduate students.”



MacNaul is receiving money for Project FIESTA (Family Intervention and Educational Services to Treat Autism), which encompasses a variety of research projects aimed at assessing and treating challenging behavior in individuals with autism — behaviors like aggression, property destruction and self-injury — as well as equipping their families and caregivers with the tools to continue to serve these individuals.

“Challenging behavior isn’t a diagnostic feature of autism spectrum disorder, but it occurs in approximately 70% of the population,” MacNaul said. “And yet, we don’t have a lot of services in the area for challenging behavior, because most of the service outlets in the community are not really equipped to work with severe and complex challenging behavior.”

The AGP award will give MacNaul the resources to assist 250 families of individuals with autism who have challenging behavior, free of charge. Length of service can range anywhere from a few hours to a few months, depending on the family’s needs. 

MacNaul’s funding will also go towards hiring a project coordinator and forming a team to maximize her efforts.

“Working with individuals with challenging behavior is a huge passion of mine,” said MacNaul, adding that her passion includes finding the next generation of interventionists who also want to impact society by working with children with autism.

Kirkpatrick’s AGP money will go toward continuing the work of Project ABA TEACHER, a program which helps local educators become board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs).

“A lot of school districts don’t have a BCBA or aren’t sure how to use a BCBA to support their school or district needs,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’re helping to meet that need in the community by training teachers to become BCBAs.”

The grant money will go, in part, to funding teachers’ costs toward supervised hours, enabling them to attain certification with less of a financial burden. ABA students will also have the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning, tackle research questions alongside faculty and fulfill their required certification hours.

ABA-certified teachers are also able to support the behavioral and academic needs of students with autism in their classrooms and their school districts, and also supervise other teachers who wish to become BCBAs, Kirkpatrick added. 

“[Districts] want someone with the BCBA skillset, and ideally even more so someone who already has that educator background, someone who is very familiar with how schools work, how teachers and other school personnel work,” she said. “And many of them are interested in our students specifically because they understand that UTSA is an established university and our program is growing vastly.”


EXPLORE FURTHER
Read more about the application process for the spring and fall 2023 semesters of the ABA program.
Discover more about Project ABA TEACHER.
⇒ Learn more about Project FIESTA.

As UTSA alumni themselves, both Kirkpatrick and MacNaul are in tune with the relationship between the university and the San Antonio community. They see their projects as ways to highlight UTSA’s work in San Antonio and to give back to the community.

“We want to make sure we have that connection with the community, that the community sees us as the beacon of light for training graduate students, training the future generation of behavior analysts, and for providing the needed services within our community,” Kirkpatrick said.

Hannah MacNaul, Marie Kirkpatrick and Christopher Reichert



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