Tackling Autism

Lehigh plans to open a new clinic in January 2018 that will use state-of-the-art methods to help children with autism gain language skills and improve how they interact with others.
Faculty and graduate students in the College of Education’s new Applied Behavior Analysis program will provide evidence-based intervention techniques for preschoolers in the region.

Slated to open at Iacocca Hall, the Autism Clinic is the brainchild of COE Dean Gary Sasso and Lee Kern, director of Lehigh’s Center for Promoting Research to Practice.

“The need is incredible here in the Lehigh Valley,” Sasso said. “Nobody is going to do it on the scale or with the expertise that we’re going to be able to bring to it. What we’re most worried about is having too many people to serve. So we’ll start off a little bit slow and then expand it as much as we can.”

Research shows that the right kind of early intervention can help children with autism spectrum disorder make great strides, Kern said. “We know there’s a huge need, and we also know that intervention can be highly effective,” she said. “So many children, if they get early intervention, can be indistinguishable from their peers as they age.”

Lehigh’s Applied Behavior Analysis program, which began in Summer 2017, will allow graduate students to take coursework that the Behavior Analyst Certification Board Inc. (BACB) has verified as meeting the coursework requirements for eligibility to take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst Examination. Students will have to meet additional requirements to qualify. Courses included in the six-course sequence include “Autism Spectrum Disorders and Evidence-Based Practices” and “Positive Behavior Support.” Under the supervision of faculty and BCBA-certified therapists, graduate students interested in pursuing a BCBA may have the opportunity to work with children with autism at the new clinic.

Kern said a key part of the services Lehigh’s clinic will offer is teaching parents how to work with their children to develop language and other communication skills.

Lehigh’s Autism Clinic plans to accept young children who are already diagnosed with autism.

“Hopefully, we’ll expand to school-age children, adolescents and even adults,” Kern said. “But that’s down the road.” 

Brenna K. Wood, associate professor in special education, will direct the clinic. Lehigh has faculty members and graduate students engaged in autism research, and they will be able to pass on their expertise to families coming to the Autism Clinic and learn from them in return.

Sasso said the Autism Clinic will be a great fit for Lehigh’s College of Education, which has several experts in autism within its faculty and a strong focus on helping people with disabilities.

Story by Margie Peterson

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