Autism center opening joins UNT's history of research, services

UNT News Service
Kristen Farmer

An estimated 1 million adults in the United States, and one in 88 children, live with an autism spectrum disorder. For nearly 40 years UNT has been a trendsetter in autism research and intervention. The opening of UNT's Kristin Farmer Autism Center this fall will allow experts from UNT's College of Education, College of Public Affairs and Community Service and College of Arts and Sciences to continue to address the needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders and expand the existing field of research.

Hands on experience for students

The center also will provide a learning environment for UNT students studying special education, behavior analysis, speech and hearing and related fields of study. They will have the opportunity to take classes at the center, interact with children and work with UNT faculty on groundbreaking research projects.

"Students will work with children individually and in small groups at the center under the supervision of the outstanding center staff and UNT faculty," says College of Education Dean Jerry Thomas. "In addition to the benefits the center provides for children with autism spectrum disorders and the research opportunities for faculty, students will benefit from this wonderful hands-on learning experience."

Achieving a goal to serve individuals with autism

The center, founded with the help of donor and alumna Kristin Farmer, founder of Comprehensive Educational Services Inc., known as ACES, will provide 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
  • other fields in autism and disabilities intervention

"The opening of the center is the realization of a dream of mine for many years as both an alumnus of the UNT Special Education program and as a passionate advocate in the field of autism," says Farmer. "Together with UNT, I proudly share in this commitment to develop a cutting-edge, world-renowned center for individuals with autism and their families – a center focused on educating students and professionals in the field of autism while elevating the standards in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders."

Services at the center are planned to include:

  • diagnostic testing and evaluation
  • full-time educational services for students with autism spectrum disorders
  • behavior analysis and therapy
  • speech and language therapy
  • play, music and art therapy
  • psychological counseling for families, parents, siblings and individuals
  • nutritional services
  • occupational and physical therapy
  • and social skills training

The center will also provide after-school recreational therapy and adapted physical education programming.

State-of-the-art facility

The 20,000-square-foot building includes:

  • two large rooms for comprehensive diagnostic testing and evaluation,
  • nine therapy rooms,
  • a large occupational and physical therapy room,
  • four classrooms for full-time students,
  • research and classroom spaces for UNT students and faculty,
  • a large multi-purpose room for after school and summer programs

The building features advanced video capture technology. Cameras will be installed in the building's classrooms, therapy rooms and diagnostic rooms, and will allow for remote and stored viewing of activities by parents, researchers and students.

"This system replaces antiquated two-way mirrors, and will allow for fine-tuned data collection and analysis for our research mission," says Kevin Callahan, executive director of the autism center. "Students and instructors in the university classroom will have the very significant advantage of being able to remotely watch live examples of teaching and therapeutic practices."

Video teleconference systems will be used to conduct research and work on collaborative projects with partners around the United States and the world.

An array of autism services all in one place

The center's opening provides an opportunity for UNT to bring all of its comprehensive services and research programs under one roof, each backed by an interdisciplinary approach to autism research and treatment.

Applied behavior analysis

UNT's College of Public Affairs and Community Service houses one of the most respected behavior analysis programs in the nation and the first to be accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International.

Applied behavior analysis is the application of scientifically-proven principles of behavior to produce positive and lasting changes in behavior. This approach has been shown to be highly effective in the treatment of autism and related disabilities. The department has a long history of research and service in areas relating to autism, including:

  • early and intensive behavioral intervention
  • assessment and treatment of behavior disorders
  • family and sibling relationships
  • language acquisition and more

Through collaborative programs with community and government organizations, the department conducts groundbreaking research, provides direct services for hundreds of families in the North Texas region, and graduates students who go on to impact the field through contributions to research, early intensive behavioral intervention and behavioral services for adults with developmental disabilities.

Best in Texas

PACS' Department of Rehabilitation, Social Work and Addictions is ranked 1st in Texas and 13th in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. The program is dedicated to empowering individuals with disabilities to lead meaningful and productive lives and prepares professionals through academics and service learning. Outreach programs, such as JOB FIT -- which assists people with disabilities in identifying careers that fit their interests and abilities and supports them as they find and maintain employment -- offers the opportunity for students to have a meaningful impact on individuals as they put research to practice.

Intervention and research

UNT's College of Education offers concentrations in autism intervention and autism research at the master's and doctoral levels. The concentration consists of comprehensive and evidenced-based practices in the field of autism spectrum disorders, and prepares leaders and educators with the core values to exemplify excellence, integrity, collaboration and impact in the field of autism.

Speech and hearing

The Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences in UNT's College of Arts and Sciences provides superior undergraduate and graduate education, as well as clinical services in speech-language pathology and audiology at the UNT Speech and Hearing Center. The center has been serving people with speech, language and hearing disorders since 1967 with professional diagnostic and intervention services.

The UNT Speech and Hearing Center provides services for children and adults with autism spectrum disorders across the life-span. Services include assessment and treatment of social communication including

  • receptive and expressive language
  • joint attention
  • pragmatics
  • theory of mind
  • articulation
  • auditory processing
  • fluency