By LINDSAY GLOTZER and BRITTANY De VRIES
The University of Mary Washington expanded its Autism support programs June 5, promoting on an even larger scale the significance of students reaching out and providing assistance to the community.
Joining in partnership with the statewide Commonwealth Autism Service and the Shenandoah Valley Regional Program, professionals in the Shenandoah Valley can now study under UMW’s recently developed graduate certificate program and Associate Behavior Analyst exam (BACBA), the latter supported by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Meta Braymer is the vice president of UMW’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies.
“The challenges of Autism are gaining increasing public attention,” Braymer said. “And we are gratified to have this opportunity in the Valley to share our programs and prepare professionals to help individuals with Autism.”
In 2001, Miriam Liss, professor of psychology, teamed up with Pamela Gorski, executive director of Reaching Potentials, a 15-year old organization that provides resources for families with autistic children through an ABA approach. Liss and Gorski developed a plan that provided volunteer and internship opportunities for psychology students.
“The plan was to train psychology students to be placed in families in the community,” Gorski said. “Our vision was to add resources to the area because families were struggling.”
Liss found the plethora of Autism programs a very exciting part of the UMW campus.
“We are positioning ourselves to be one of the best among top schools in offering autism programs for undergraduates,” Liss said.
Reaching Potentials and its UMW portion have reached and transcended their initial goals. Since its first year, the UMW pilot program grew immensely, accepting as many as 30 student volunteers over the course of a semester.
UMW’s Brown Bag Dinner Series featured a discussion Feb. 28 on how to better help students with special needs, advocating students with Autism and other disabilities. Through the Shenandoah Valley Regional program provision of two way audio and videoconferencing for classroom use, UMW is better equipped to provide assistance to autistic individuals.
The CGPS courses, available to UMW seniors as well, were also recognized by the state-funded Virginia Autism Council, which offers training opportunities for experts supportive of Autism. As a result, students accepted $300 per course through a state reimbursement program.
Students are reacting well to the University’s growth in this academic area through its courses, internships, and volunteer work.
Gorski said that the students most enjoy the ability to work one-on-one with a child.
“They can see the changes the child makes in a short period of time through their efforts,” she said.
From Aug. 23-29, Christofer Foss, associate professor of English, was featured on Virginia’s With Good Reason Public Radio for his research on Autism in modern literature and film. The interview can be heard online at withgoodreason.org
With the recent academic course offerings and volunteer opportunities, students are able to secure internships and continue their education. Gorski said that many students have graduated from UMW to stay in the field, working with Reaching Potentials, but has gone on to receive their master’s.
Just recently, UMW signed a contract to partner with the New England Center For Children in Boston, tentatively planned to begin Fall 2009.