UNT center evaluates alternative treatments aimed at helping kids with autism

Four-year-old Jackson Arnold points to the day of the week during circle time at the UNT Kristin Farmer Autism Center, which was tapped by Texas to identify ways to help families with children on the autism spectrum. 

The University of North Texas' Kristin Farmer Autism Center has been tapped by the state to identify ways to help underserved families with children on the autism spectrum. 

Autism experts are realizing there aren't always enough board certified behavior analysts to go around, resulting in wait lists for families. Even in major cities, such as Austin, Houston, San Antonio and the Dallas/Fort Worth area, there are often not enough providers to meet the demand, said Kevin Callahan, executive director of the Kristin Farmer Autism Center.

However, with help from researchers at the center, a pilot program in the state may change that by identifying additional resources for families. The UNT center was awarded $50,000 from the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services to evaluate innovative treatments and interventions that could serve as alternatives for underserved children with autism spectrum disorder.

The evaluation results could have significant implications for the way families and children with autism spectrum disorder are served throughout the state, said Callahan. He added that effectively serving families who live outside the largest population areas is especially challenging, which is a major reason why additional treatment options are needed.

"Study results show that existing funds are providing applied behavior analysis services to a small percentage of Texas children with autism spectrum disorder," said Callahan. "Too many people are on wait lists partly because the number of board certified behavior analysts around the state is low. We believe we can help identify alternative, evidence-based practices that might be effective for under-served families."

Once evaluations are complete for the yearlong study, the UNT center will help pinpoint innovative, evidence-based practices to help individuals with autism spectrum disorder thrive. The pilot project is also working to develop interventions that are available to Spanish-speaking families. The programs being evaluated were selected by the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, and the UNT center helped identify key components to be assessed, thanks to a separate $4,000 award from the state.

In addition to helping families, UNT's involvement in the initiative could further the center's role as a statewide leader in autism research and services.

"Our involvement in this project may bring increased awareness to the Kristin Farmer Autism Center and UNT," said Callahan. "It's a lot of responsibility and a great challenge for us, and we are really excited about partnering with DARS to make a lasting impact on autism services in Texas."

About the UNT Kristin Farmer Autism Center

The UNT Kristin Farmer Autism Center, housed in UNT's College of Education, provides families and individuals with autism spectrum disorder a resource for comprehensive autism treatment, research and support and allows UNT to bring together its long history of interdisciplinary autism services and research under one roof. The center allows families in the North Texas region and beyond to have access to high-quality services designed and implemented by top researchers, professors and professionals in the fields of special education, applied behavior analysis, early childhood intervention, speech and language pathology and other fields in autism and disabilities intervention.

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By Monique Bird, UNT University Relations, Communications & Marketing
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