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UNT Insider | September 2008 Issue | Autism Grant

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UNT receives about $800,000 grant to train rural Texans in autism education

From a UNT News Service press release


Smita Mehta

Smita Mehta

The University of North Texas, which began as a teaching college, is continuing its commitment to education by creating a master's degree program in special education, with an emphasis in autism, which can be earned completely through distributed learning methods.


The program, which is funded by a four-year, approximately $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, is intended to reach out to rural Texans who lack access to training opportunities in special education programs. The program known as Project DART (Distributed Education for Autism Personnel in Rural Texas), will complement UNT's existing, on-campus master's degree in special education with a specialization in autism intervention.


"In Texas, the incidence rate of autism has dramatically increased. In 2003, 11,940 Texas children were identified as having autism, with the numbers steadily increasing through the years," says Smita Mehta, associate professor in special education and the project's principal investigator. "We need to reach the teachers of these children and make sure that they use evidence-based practices for maximum educational effect. This urgency has made it necessary for us to provide a distributed including distance education option for individuals who do not have access to universities in metropolitan areas."


The program will be open to individuals with a four-year degree in any discipline of education, or individuals who are currently working within a school district. Twenty-five top students from rural Texas will be accepted on scholarship each year. The first group of students will enter the program in the spring of 2009. Applications will be accepted starting next month.


Approximately 65 percent of the grant money will go toward the financial support of the students and the other 35 percent will go toward the development of courses and other instructional technologies. The university's Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment, and Redesign will help create the necessary instructional tools for the program.


The program also will incorporate a substantial field experience component with the groups of 25 students coming to Denton each summer to collaborate and work with students with autism in the Denton ISD's extended school year program.


Kevin Callahan and Bertina Combes, both associate professors in the Department of Educational Psychology, are the project's co-directors, and they will collaborate with Mehta on the grant administration.


Project DART will complement the work of the recently announced Autism Spectrum Disorder interdisciplinary research cluster. The cluster is intended to improve the quality of life for those affected by autism by researching and developing tools for behavioral and education interventions.


UNT News Service Press Release
Alyssa Aber can be reached at alyssa.aber@unt.edu.

Read other stories in this issue:


September 2008

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