October 31, 2020

Jacksonville State to establish center for Autism studies

(Jacksonville, AL/ www.jsu.edu) — Jacksonville State University is establishing a new Center for Autism Studies to provide leadership, research and advocacy in the area of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Housed in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in JSU’s College of Education and Professional Studies, the center’s mission is to prepare the next generation of education professionals to better interact with students with autism. It will provide an avenue for research and education – including early identification, intervention, behavior management, differentiation of instruction, and family dynamics.

“The center represents a unique opportunity for JSU to lead as an innovator in preparing teacher candidates for the classroom,” said Janet Bavonese, center director and head of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

“Typically, general and special education teachers receive a limited amount of professional learning in the area of Autism Spectrum Disorders. The center will seek to change that dynamic, building teacher candidates and professors into professional learning teams that will focus on ASD, classroom strategies and family advocacy.”

The center will facilitate collaborative relationships across disciplines at JSU and partner with community colleges and P-12 institutions. It will contribute to the state and national understanding of ASD and build an infrastructure of research and support for families.

The idea for the center grew out of the JSU Autism Conference, which is chaired by Bavonese and Valerie Wheat, instructor of special education. The annual event features professional development for teachers and teacher candidates, along with resources for families impacted by autism. Bavonese and Wheat saw the need for a year-round initiative and collaborated to design the center.

“The center will provide advocacy and support for people on the Autism Spectrum and their families,” said Wheat, who is serving as the center’s assistant director. “We hope to provide opportunities for transition from high school and college into the community. We also hope to provide support and resources for educators who work with people on the Autism Spectrum.”

The JSU team is comprised of faculty in curriculum and instruction and psychology, as well as representatives from Student Disability Services. JSU teacher candidates will participate in center initiatives, including cultivating awareness of ASD, development of ASD professional learning modules for K-12 teachers, and early intervention strategies. Published research activities, community outreach, curricular information and an annual report will be shared online with the community.

“The center is very important to our work in teacher education,” said Bavonese. “In Northeast Alabama, there are little resources that specifically prepare teacher candidates to work with students on the Autism Spectrum and their families. We hope to be among the first to develop a cohesive model that positively impacts all educators.”

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