New $830K special education grant aims to boost support for families, teachers

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico is facing a teacher shortage but a new grant may help the state get closer to providing more support to parents and their kids in our state.

According to the CDC, autism spectrum disorder affects 1 in 44 children.

"It is a developmental disorder that primarily affects social communication," said Cindy Gevarter, an assistant professor at UNM’s Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences. "Individuals who have autism also typically have, what are called, repetitive or restrictive behaviors."

Experts say early intervention is key. However, Professor Gevarter says there’s a huge need, in general, for speech-language pathologists for special educators in New Mexico.

"There’s even a greater need for people who know how to work with kids with autism – and know how to work with their families use culturally sensitive methods and naturalistic methods," the professor said.

This is why, at UNM, specialized training is adapting to each family’s needs.

"What is traditional for this family? What are your routines? ‘Oh, you don’t do play, but you do storytime?’ How can we integrate communication into that environment and do it in a way that is benefiting the child and also benefiting the family?" the professor noted.

However, it can be challenging to get a diverse group of students and other professionals involved, especially with certain barriers in place. For instance, you have to have a master’s degree to become a speech-language pathologist.

Professor Gevarter hopes the new $830,000 grant will help with recruitment, by making sure anyone interested in the hands-on training has access to more support for going back to school. This way, she says, New Mexico can have more professionals, in these much-needed fields, who can provide necessary help to families in the state.

"Give that child an opportunity to really show their wants, needs and desires and to be able to communicate with peers and interact with everyone in everyday life," Professor Gevarter said.