Posted on November 10, 2021 by

ProjectEarly.png Researchers from the College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Educational Psychology were recently awarded $1.2 million 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), a 5-year grant focused on preparing graduate students in early assessment and intervention for young children with autism. Project EARLY will take place at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), a leading urban-serving institution located in the heart of downtown San Antonio, Texas.

A collaborative cross-disciplinary effort and in partnership with the Autism Treatment Center, Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, and the City of San Antonio, Early Head Start Program, Project EARLY will train and prepare culturally-responsive Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and School Psychologists (LSSPs) in applied behavior analysis (ABA), school psychology, and early childhood education to increase the quantity and quality of specialists trained to identify and provide interventions for infants and toddlers at risk for or diagnosed with autism. With combined training and expertise in ABA and School Psychology, the diverse group of graduate student scholars served by this grant will be able to identify autism symptomology earlier, facilitate early diagnosis, start treatment sooner, and engage in more effective and efficient practice. Given the continued rise in autism diagnosis, and the persistent shortage of trained autism professionals, training in a collaborative and cross-disciplinary framework of service provision such as Project EARLY is both necessary and timely. 

“Both school psychology and ABA have documented shortages, but there are even fewer professionals who possess competencies and credentialing across both specialty areas,” said Felicia Castro-Villarreal, Ph.D., associate professor and co-principal investigator of the grant. “Project EARLY seeks to address this professional need by increasing the quantity and enhancing the quality of service providers available to offer comprehensive services for children with autism.” 

Dr. Hannah MacNaul, a co-principal investigator on the grant and alumnus of UTSA with dual credentialling across both specialty areas said, “If this type of grant project was offered while I was a student, I would have been the first to apply! 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. 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. I am thrilled to serve as Project EARLY faculty on the grant and see the prospects of this effort come to life. The scholars that participate will go on to make great advances for San Antonio and the autism community.” 

Graduate student scholars who participate in the project will complete cooperative coursework in School Psychology and in Applied Behavior Analysis and will also engage in innovative professional learning communities. Cross-disciplinary coursework will include hands-on, practical training experiences through placement at the Autism Treatment Center and rotation through the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio autism diagnostic clinic. Additionally, scholars will complete school consultation projects and competencies through the City of San Antonio, Early Head Start Program. The Department of Educational Psychology at UTSA has a long history of interdisciplinary collaboration which will be further supported and strengthened through Project EARLY. These curated and shared experiences will provide scholars with the opportunity to learn from each other as well as work with and learn from leading experts in the field related to the assessment and treatment of autism.   

Graduate student scholars selected to participate in Project EARLY will be provided with a paid internship at the Autism Treatment Center and other financial incentives totaling over $25,000. Specifically, Project EARLY will provide scholars with a $13,000 tuition stipend, a $500 technology stipend, a $500 summer stipend, $250 to purchase research materials, and a $1,000 travel budget to allow student travel to state and national conferences. Upon completion of the program, UTSA graduate students will be eligible to sit for qualifying exams necessary for state and national credentials. Faculty in the department are set to begin admitting their first cohort of students in the Fall of 2022. Applications are now open! 

Learn more about the Department of Educational Psychology or apply for Project EARLY by filling out the interest form at .