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Saint Mary’s hosts autism intervention workshop

| Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Saint Mary’s hosted nearly 600 participants Friday in its Introduction to Pivotal Response Treatment workshop in O’Laughlin Auditorium.

Courtesy of Michael Waddell
Bob Koegel, a researcher who developed Pivotal Response Treatment, addresses attendees of Saint Mary’s workshops aimed at promoting awareness and fostering education about autism.

Stanford University researchers Bob and Lynn Koegel, who developed Pivotal Response Treatment — an approach to autism intervention that targets certain aspects of development, rather than individual behaviors — provided level-one certification for participants upon completion of the workshop.

“One of the things that’s really important in this community is that we have a lot of really talented people who are thirsting for knowledge about the most cutting-edge approaches to working with individuals with autism,” Master of Autism Studies faculty fellow Joshua John Diehl, said. “And so, by setting up something like this, it’s creating opportunities that this community wouldn’t otherwise have.”

This event was made possible by collaboration among the Master of Autism Studies program, the department of communicative sciences and disorders, LOGAN Autism Services — a learning center that offers education and resources to individuals with developmental disabilities — Special Friends of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s and the Students Supporting Autism group.

Pivotal Response Treatment provided the workshop free-of-cost and only required registration to partake in the training, Diehl said.

“If any individual that came to this conference were to want to get this training, it would cost them about $3,000 apiece,” Diehl said. “So the fact that we can get so many people trained and enrich people from all different disciplines, it makes a huge impact on the community.”

Diehl said the financial burden lifted by this workshop contributed to the incredible turnout.

“As far as I know — and I have talked to people at LOGAN, and I have been here for a decade — there has never been disability-related training of this magnitude in this area ever,” Diehl said. “The number of people that attended and were affected at no cost is just phenomenal.”

Director of the Master of Autism Studies program, Michael Waddell, said he was aware there would be community interest, but the turnout almost doubled what he had anticipated.

“All of the reports that I received [Friday] talking to people during the event and after the event indicated that they had a really good experience, that they enjoyed being on campus at Saint Mary’s and that they thought this training would be very beneficial for them in their various schools and clinics and other organizations in the community,” Waddell said.

In having a larger turnout than first anticipated, event planning needed to account for potential difficulties, Waddell said.  

“There was an awful lot of thought and planning that went into the event, and we tried to anticipate every kind of problem that might arise,” he said. “Because there was so much thought put into the planning, I think we had measures in place to address just about every need that there was.”

Waddell said while the particular benefit to the participants varies, he sees two major benefits that attendees received.

“I think for some people, it was really beneficial to understand the sort of theory that underpins Pivotal Response Treatment, and then to be introduced to the scientific evidence base for the success of that theory in providing autism intervention,” Waddell said. “For other people in the audience, what was probably most beneficial was the fact that in addition to giving us the theoretical underpinnings and the scientific evidence for the efficacy of Pivotal Response Treatment, the Koegels also gave a lot of concrete, practical suggestions about ways that you could implement Pivotal Response Treatment in schools, in clinics, even in home and out in the community.”

Pivotal Response Treatment in particular has a “broad applicability,” Diehl said, as it acknowledges both the needs of both young children and adults.

“What’s great about this particular approach is that it comes across disciplines in a language that people can communicate across disciplines,” Diehl said. “Not only that, but it is a kind of approach that can be used by family and loved ones in their work with their loved one who has autism.”

Waddell said this program fills a need created by the increasing diagnoses of autism in children. In the future, the Master of Autism Studies program intends to continue to host a couple workshops a year to address this growing need, he said.

“In a situation where autism is becoming common in society, obviously there is tremendous need for understanding autism and providing the best services for autistic people and their families,” Waddell said. “The only way that that is possible is if we are providing the best training and the best education about autism and about autism interventions. So really, this is something which is an essential part of responding to the social phenomena of increasing need for understanding and serving autistic individuals and their families.”

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About Jordan Cockrum

Jordan Cockrum is a senior at Saint Mary's studying Communications and Humanistic Studies. She currently serves as Saint Mary's Editor.

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