Those Who Help, Help a Lot

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According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.

It is called a “spectrum” disorder because those with ASD can have a range of symptoms. People with ASD might have problems talking with you, or they might not look you in the eye when you talk to them. They may spend a lot of time putting things in order, or may say the same sentence again and again. They may seem to be in their “own world.”

There is no standard treatment for ASD, however, there are many ways to increase a child’s ability to grow and learn new skills. Starting them early can lead to better results.

According to the 2013 figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 88 children in the U.S. has ASD. In Texas alone, the Texas Education Agency reports that there are over 50,000 students with autism in the public school system, and many texans don’t understand the importance of supporting autistic children when they become adults.  With training there’s an 85 – 90% chance they will be able to work competitively.  But they need to participate in some post-secondary support and work experience.  People with ASD can go to college, work, drive, live independently, get married, and live full, quality lives when provided appropriate supports and services.

Here’s where the TTU Burkhart Autism Center in Lubbock enters the picture. Among many other services, they offer a very successful Transition Academy.  As children with autism age, experiencing the transition to adulthood, leaving school, finding jobs and living alone can be stressful for them as well as their caregivers.

“The challenges of living independently, gaining employment, attaining postsecondary education and building social relationships are greater for adolescents and young adults with autism,” said Janice Magness, Director of the Transition Academy. “Our Academy helps individuals experience the transition as well as teaching professionals to assist with the transition to adulthood.”

The Transition Academy shares a variety of strategies to cope with the stress of transitioning to adulthood with autism including: accessing community support; receiving support from friends, family and teachers; and creating opportunities for self-determination, such as making independent choices and setting goals.

Currently there are 15 students enrolled in the Transition Academy, ranging in age from 18 to 30. “We want students to come here having finished their academic requirements. We stress working on life skills, social skills and job skills. It is generally a three-year program. We follow the university’s schedule and have breaks between semesters.”

“We offer a fitness program, a nutritionist, music therapy and emphasize art. Several of our teachers are job coaches because we want graduates to have a job waiting when they finish the program. For our students, the missing ingredient is the social piece.”

“Most of our students are high functioning, but they don’t have good social skills and might be socially inappropriate. It is hard to go to a job interview and get hired without help because they don’t know how to answer questions or they might just sit there and not greet the interviewer. They don’t have good presentation skills so we teach them how to create a resume, how to participate in a job interview.”

“Our students are typically very bright, and communicate very well but they might not know how to heat a meal in the microwave. They might put something in there covered in foil. They wouldn’t know what to do if the lights went out. We teach them about laundry, how to sit down at the table as a group and eat, how to make simple and nutritious meals.”

“When they get their certificate from the Burkhart Center, the goal is to be able to live on their own and have full or part-time employment. We are trying to integrate them into society. And their independence is our focus,” Magness concludes.

That is just one aspect of the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research.    Wesley H. Dotson, Ph.D., BCBA, Co-Director & Director of Outpatient Services shares “The Burkhart Center aims to increase the quality of life for individuals with autism, their families and the professionals who work with them by providing services, preparing educators, and conducting research. We offer a variety of resources in adult transitions, technical assistance in implementing evidence-based interventions and community outreach services.”

“The Center also supports master’s and doctoral students with scholarships, fellowships and opportunities to work with individuals on the spectrum. Additionally, the Center has supported the undergraduate teacher preparation program with instruction for intervening with children with ASD.”

Here are a few of the Family & Community Services offered:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis Services: including Focused ABA services for children from 3-15 years old, social skills classes for all ages, and contract consultations with schools and other community agencies.
  • Family Resource Support Line: provides parents with help in locating resources in the community for their child/youth with ASD.
  • Burkhart Transition Academy: provides post-secondary educational assessment and programming.
  • Project CASE: Connections for Academic Success and Employment: to identify, recruit, and retain students with developmental disabilities, ages 18-25, who are interested in earning a college degree and gaining employment in their field of interest.

Burkhart Walk for Autism Awareness

Camp Burkhart

Family Fun Events

Parents’ Night Out

Performing Arts Activities

The Burkhart Family Endowed Lecture Series

Annual Autism Conference

State Autism Resources

Dotson concludes, “At TTU we have the saying, :From here, it’s possible.”  We turn that into an open offer and tell families, “Come here and you can see possibilities for life.” At the Burkhart Center we add that those are not just words but invite you to come here and meet those who have learned to live a life.”

For more information, please contact
806-742-6596 or burkhartclinic.educ@ttu.edu.

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