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UTSA, Children’s Hospital launch autism-focused cross-training program

by Courtney Clevenger, University Communications    |    September 12, 2017

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Through the San Antonio Applied Behavior Analysis Project, a joint initiative between The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio (the CHofSA) and the Autism Treatment Center – San Antonio, university professors and health practitioners are working together to provide UTSA students and hospital residents with a comprehensive overview of the medical and therapeutic aspects of autism treatment. The three organizations hope that by providing the specialized training, they can make autism treatment more accessible to San Antonians.


Last summer, the partners in the San Antonio Applied Behavior Analysis Project opened an autism clinic at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. The clinic provides direct Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services to children with autism and developmental disorders, serves as a training ground for UTSA students, conducts impactful research, and helps educate parents and practitioners.


The ABA approach, widely considered one of the most effective treatment options for individuals with autism, involves understanding an individual’s behavior and modifying the environment to encourage socially appropriate behaviors. According to Leslie Neely, UTSA assistant professor of educational psychology, researchers have demonstrated that the ABA approach is particularly helpful in finding out why a child might engage in a challenging behavior so a responsive, individualized intervention can be provided. Neely says that ABA interventions have proven effective at mitigating children’s challenging behaviors, increasing their social and communication skills and improving their academic performance.


The new cross-training program was piloted at Children’s Hospital this summer. Hospital residents spent part of the summer with Neely at the hospital’s ABA clinic, learning what happens to patients after an autism diagnosis.


“This new cross-training program is unique to San Antonio, a city which is fast becoming one of the pioneers in community-oriented ABA therapy,” said Neely. “We’ve been hearing from Children’s Hospital residents that this has been an illuminating and valuable experience for them. I know it will be a similar experience for our UTSA students, who will become the ABA practitioners of the future.”


As part of the program, UTSA educational psychology, school psychology and special education students will spend the fall semester with Neely and Dr. Melissa Svoboda, director of the CHofSA’s autism center, as well as Dr. Andrew Martinez, a specialist in clinical psychology, to learn more about autism and the many available treatment services.


This program fulfills a growing need in San Antonio. A recent study funded by the Kronkosky Foundation estimates that 1 in 79 people in San Antonio and the surrounding community are on the autism spectrum. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that Hispanic children are one of the fastest growing populations experiencing autism diagnoses.


“I wish this program was something I had during my training,” said Dr. Svoboda. “Many autism service providers don’t even know about Applied Behavioral Analysis. These new doctors, in their early years of training, are getting to experience it firsthand. This is the first step in getting doctors to understand what this therapy is and how it helps patients.”


UTSA is ranked among the top 400 universities in the world and among the top 100 in the nation, according to Times Higher Education.



View the original story on UTSA Today: http://www.utsa.edu/today/2017/09/story/SAABAcrosstraining.html

Photo courtesy of University Communications


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