Kristin Farmer Autism Center celebrates one-year anniversary

Kristin Farmer Autism Center celebrates one-year anniversary

Kristin Farmer Autism Center celebrates one-year anniversary
September 17
07:55 2013

Andrew Freeman / Staff Writer

Today marks the one-year anniversary for the Kristin Farmer Autism Center, an off-campus UNT facility that is used for research, training and direct service to people with autism.

Over the past year, they have completed over 40 assessments on patients ranging from the ages of 18 months to 39 years.

“It’s really exciting,” Director of Outreach and Training Kevin Stewart said. “Adult services are lacking, so we’re very proud.”

When the center began, it had two full-time clients. Now, the center has 10 full-time, and 11 part-time clients, and it’s still growing.

“We’re in the process of getting two more adult clients,” Stewart said. “We also want to continue to provide support to UNT students of the spectrum.”

The center’s three mission components – research, training, and direct services – are critical in what the center does every day.

“Research is something we continue to do a lot of and want to be premiere in,” Stewart said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re working with school districts and publishing articles.

The center has more than 100 various opportunities to UNT students, including jobs, internships and observations.

“We want to make sure we’re involved in the next round of special service providers,” Stewart said. “And we want them to be highly qualified and competent when they get out there.”

The new grant project called “Project: Systematic Training for Autism Teachers” is helping to move the center forward. A $1.2 million grant from the U.S Department of Education, this five-year grant will provide on-the-job coaching at the center and full scholarships to special education teachers seeking their master’s degrees.

“We just got funded so we’re in the process of recruiting students,” said Smita Mehta, associate professor of special education and coordinator of autism training. “By the end of five years, we hope to have trained over 40 great teachers.”

Mehta said DFW has the largest concentration of those diagnosed with autism in all of Texas, and that is why the center and the grant are so important.

“Every big university in the country cannot have a good special education program without a center like ours,” Dr. Mehta said. “We’ve gone too long without one given our own extensive and large special education master’s program.”

One of Mehta’s graduate students, Lindsey Eason, is currently doing research at the autism center. Her dissertation involves using computer-assisted instruction to teach social skills to those with autism.

“I’m just in the beginning stages and am currently seeking subjects,” Eason said. “My research will be finished by the end of fall, but I volunteered to research during the summer, so I may be working during the spring as well.”

She said the center is invaluable with all the resources and technology it offers.

“It’s very innovative and they have lots of technology incorporated inside the building that captures some of the things that go on,” Eason said. “It’s advancing the knowledge and research base of evidence-based practices for those with autism and it provides critical services in our community.”

Stewart said autism is now so prevalent that it strikes one in nearly 50 people.

“A need for these services is essential, and the comprehensive nature of what we do is crucial in autism intervention,” Stewart said. “We provide these services with the experience of a specially-trained team, and we pride ourselves on that.”

The center hosted the annual autism research conference in July, which was attached with a benefit concert. The theme was ‘Dream, DFW rocks to end autism through music.’ The turnout was the biggest in the conference’s five-year history at UNT.

Kevin Stewart works with client at the UNT Kristin Farmer Autism Center. Feature photo by Zixian Chen / Intern

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