With the help of a $470,000 gift from Parker Lifeshare Foundation of Jackson, the University of Mississippi School of Education is designing a program to address the specialized needs of children across the autism spectrum and prepare education professionals who will teach them.
According to the 2018 Mississippi Autism Advisory Committee Report, the dramatic growth in autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, constitutes a public health crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 59 U.S. children have been diagnosed with ASD, while data from the U.S. Department of Education reveals that the number of Mississippi students with ASD receiving special education services from 2014 to 2017 has risen from 4,027 to 5,179, a 28.6 percent increase over three years.
The gift enables the School of Education to hire a board-certified behavior analyst-doctoral faculty member to develop the curriculum and coursework needed for a comprehensive program in applied behavior analysis. It is most commonly used in special education classes to treat behavioral challenges among special needs students, specifically those identified as ASD.
The program will prepare graduate-level students to complete requirements necessary to become board-certified and licensed behavior analysts.
“Parker Lifeshare Foundation was especially interested in the opportunity to help identify a faculty leader for this new program because we recognize that teachers and therapists who can better support students with disabilities are greatly needed in our communities and school districts,” said Matt Holleman, one of the foundation’s directors.
“The number of families struggling with ASD is rapidly growing, and the foundation wants to be supportive in helping these children and their families,” Holleman said. “If you follow the literature and what the authorities are reporting, interventions are most successful when made as early as possible, so we know that the more trained specialists we can deploy around the state, the better chance there is to help these families.”
Hiring a board-certified faculty member is the first critical step to developing programs needed to support quality education for children diagnosed with ASD in Mississippi, said David Rock, Ole Miss education dean.
“The earlier the intervention, the greater the likelihood of a child graduating from high school and becoming a productive citizen in the future,” said Rock, expressing his gratitude to Parker Lifeshare Foundation for its generous gift.
Rock said he hopes to have the new faculty member in place by August 2019.
“Teachers need specialized instructional techniques, unique curriculum and coordinated services to successfully serve these students,” said Denise Soares, associate professor of special education and assistant chair of teacher education. “Thanks to this gift, we will be able to prepare our students to become the teachers these children need.”
With a gift from Wayne Parker in 2000, Parker Lifeshare Foundation was established to give children a share of life’s blessings that have eluded them either through debilitation or disease. The foundation seeks not only to fund other existing charitable organizations that serve children but also to initiate its unique projects and programs that meet the needs of children who are dealing with disabilities or are at risk in their daily lives.
The Parker Lifeshare Foundation also supports the Magnolia Speech School, Operation Shoestring, Canopy and the UM Medical Center’s nutrition program for Shoestring – each sharing in the mission of bettering lives for Mississippians.