Autism training for Tennessee educators expands

TRIAD Director Pablo Juarez leads an autism training session for Tennessee educators. (Photo Vanderbilt University / Susan Urmy)

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) has awarded a 5-year, $10-million training grant to Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD), continuing a 16-year partnership to provide education and training opportunities for school personnel throughout the state.

Pablo Juárez, TRIAD associate director and principal investigator for this grant, said ongoing TDOE support allows TRIAD to continue to provide services to educators serving kindergarten through high school, at no direct cost to those educators, their schools, or school systems. Further, it allows TRIAD to dramatically increase the number of educational opportunities available to educators.

“This award, the largest in this unique partnership, quadruples the budget of our professional development, education, and behavior analysis team,” said Juárez. “It allows us to continue to create innovative programming to support educators across Tennessee as they serve students of varying needs, including those with autism. We anticipate being able to deliver around 100 professional development and training opportunities annually to educators through statewide workshops, trainings, and partnerships, as well as online education.”

According to Dr. Sarah Blumberg, TRIAD school-age program coordinator, it is TRIAD’s focus on evidence-based practices that continues to serve as the foundation for high-quality programming.

“Evidence-based practices for teaching students with autism are fundamental to TRIAD’s professional development and training approaches,” Blumberg said. “The wonderful thing about the evidence-based practices that we teach and model is that they work really well for all students regardless of diagnostic status. In fact, they also work really well when applied to adult educators, which is why these same evidence-based practices provide the structure for all the opportunities presented by TRIAD.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) impact 1 in 68 children. Thanks in large part to the strong collaborative nature of their relationship with TDOE, TRIAD became a member of the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network in January 2015, which is the national network of sites collectively responsible for the CDC’s prevalence data on ASD.

Dr. Zachary Warren, associate professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry, and Special Education and TRIAD director, said this continued partnership is vital. “Together with the Tennessee Department of Education, we are able to lead the nation in statewide initiatives aimed directly at understanding what ASD means within our own borders, how that compares nationally, and how to best approach early intervention and school-based educational and behavioral support for students from Memphis to Mountain City. We’re very proud to be playing this role within Tennessee.”

This new training grant will support TRIAD’s school-age services from July 2015 through June 2020.

Pictured top of page: TRIAD Director Pablo Juarez leads an autism training session for Tennessee educators. (Photo Vanderbilt University / Susan Urmy)

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