More than 65 undergraduate students from the Educational Psychology Department at The University of Texas-Pan American recently traveled to Monterrey, Mexico to learn more about the brain disorder, autism.
The group - which included students in the Special Education, Educational Diagnostician and School Psychology programs - visited the Castello School, a private school for children with autism.
"The impact of autism on public schools is substantial," said Dr. Cheryl Fielding, coordinator of the educational diagnostician program. "Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability and according to some estimates has increased by 300 percent during the past three years."
In fall 2002, Student Council for Exceptional Children, a UTPA student organization, voted to adopt the Castello School for the 2002-2003 school year. Typically, each year SCEC chooses a local classroom to adopt, however, this year they voted to try something new in the spirit of international collaboration.
SCEC club members raised more than $800 from food sales on campus and donations to yard sales. Proceeds were used to purchase a copy and fax machine, and a multitude of school and office supplies for the Castello School.
A local special education director, sign language interpreters and an employee of the Weslaco Association for Retarded Citizens also participated in the trip.
The Autism Treatment Centers, which supported the trip, and UTPA have formed a collaborative partnership under the project name Research and Evaluation of Autism Preparation (REAP) Center.
The purpose of the project is to serve individuals within the local community by preparing UTPA undergraduate and graduate students to participate in or to conduct evaluations of children suspected of having autism.
Last year, the center awarded the Education Psychology Department over $40,000 in video teleconferencing equipment.
"The new technology has allowed local students the opportunity to have personal access to experts in the field of autism from across the state," Fielding said.