COE graduate student receives departmental Excellence in Student Engagement award for promoting autism awareness

Barbara Hobbs, a graduate student in the UNT College of Education's Educational Psychology Autism Intervention program, recently received the Excellence in Student Engagement in special education award. This award is given to students in the EDSP program who continually engage with current and prospective students and work to promote the field of special education.

According to Miriam Boesch, a UNT professor in Special Education, the faculty in the Autism Intervention program nominated Hobbs for this award because she it is a perfect example of what the award stands for.

"As a student in my courses, she is constantly engaged with her peers offering her extensive experience to those who have problems," Boesch said. "If there's a peer who is working at a school and needs help brainstorming a solution, Barbara readily offers her wisdom in a manner that helps her peer find a resolution."

Along with helping her peers, Hobbs also strives to promote autism awareness in her community. For a final project in Boesch's Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorders course, students have to create something that informs the public about autism. Hobbs took this course online last fall and collaborated with Texas' Region 16 Education Service Center (which covers the Panhandle area) for her final project to create a video about autism from the perspective of a father who has a child on the spectrum.

After the course, Hobbs expanded this idea and worked with Region 16 to create a four-part video series that covers four different families that have children with autism. During Autism Awareness Month in April, these videos have been featured on Region 16's TV program "Spotlight on Education," which is shown once a week on ABC 7 News in Amarillo.

"The people I've talked to love seeing the family perspective," Hobbs said. "It was good because we recorded the video in the families' home so the audience got to see the child in a different setting. They loved hearing the parents' perspective."

The first segment shared the story of two parents who have a child with autism, and the second segment focused on a high school student with autism. The third segment aired April 21, and the final segment will air on April 28.

"[These videos] are important because it allows the disorder to be ‘humanized' for viewers who may have misconceptions about autism," Boesch said. "In essence, Barbara took the initiative to inform to create something that would have a significant impact on the community. She is someone who has shown to be an advocate for the field and is working toward enriching the lives of individuals with autism and their families."

Hobbs is also helping organize this year's Region 16 Autism Conference. The conference is for professionals, parents and members of the community. It will be free for parents of children with autism, and will have keynote speakers and breakout sessions discussing the different areas of autism.

Dr. Barry M. Prizant, clinical scholar, consultant, researcher and program consultant for children and older persons with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, will be a keynote speaker at the conference. Another highlighted keynote is Dr. Liane Holliday Willey, an individual with autism and internationally renowned author and speaker on autism spectrum conditions, communications and learning diversity. The Region 16 Autism Conference will be held June 1-2 in Amarillo.