December 18, 2014  

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Autism Project Offers Training, Programs for Children in Mississippi

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Four-year-old Daisha Landry of Diamondhead, left, works on her alphabet with Angie Pardee, a speech language pathologist at The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Autism Project. ( Office of University Communications photo by Charmaine Schmermund)

With the new school year approaching, the Autism Project at The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast wants to remind parents and school personnel about the services available regarding children with autism.

In addition to the training services available for parents and school personnel, the Autism Project has space available for children with autism ranging from pre-school through second grade.

The $1.3 million program, developed through a partnership between the university and the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), has a mission of designing and implementing appropriate school-based programs for students with autism who qualify for special education services in Mississippi.

“While we provide direct services at the project’s Demonstration School to a select number of students with autism, our primary mission is to conduct autism training on behalf of the Mississippi Department of Education Office of Special Education,” said Dr. Tim Morse, director of the Autism Project and associate professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education at Southern Miss.

Students who receive services at the Autism Project’s Demonstration School have various attendance schedules. “Some students attend five days a week and stay the entire day,” said Morse. “Others attend one to three days a week and for several hours each day. Each child’s attendance schedule is individually determined.”

For Chemise Landry of Diamondhead, the Autism Project is much like a regular school environment for her 4-year-old daughter, Daisha. A student since March, Daisha attends the Demonstration School five days a week for several hours each day. As a parent, Landry believes children with autism and their parents should take advantage of the assistance provided by the Autism Project.

“Public schools do try their best, but a lot of them don’t have what it takes to really work with children who have autism,” said Landry. “There are many parts when it comes to autism and these children need more than a regular special education classroom. This program focuses on autism and its better for them.”

Although Daisha is a student, she is not the only one gaining knowledge from the Autism Project. Landry believes that by regularly asking questions and talking with the program’s professionals, she is able to learn from the methods used in the classroom and apply them at home.

In the five months Daisha has been a student at the Autism Project, Landry has noticed an improvement in Daisha’s social skills with other children. “She’s willing to go up to other children even though she still doesn’t know quite how to interact as a typical child would, but that she’s willing to go up to them and try to initiate some type of social activity is an improvement.”

The Autism Project trained 400 parents and school personnel last year and Morse anticipates the program will train just as many this upcoming school year. Although the Autism Project is a university-based program, the Demonstration School is housed in Long Beach Middle School, allowing program participants a more realistic school-based environment for learning.

“We are continuing to systematically develop the Autism Project,” said Morse. “As we enter our second full school year, we will operate another classroom in addition to the one we operated last year. This means that we have two classrooms that are placement options for students with autism in preschool through second grade. Additionally, we will continue to conduct training for school personnel and parents at our Demonstration School and at venues throughout Mississippi.”

The Autism Project began in October 2009 when MDE and Southern Miss Gulf Coast entered into a multi-year Interagency Agreement to provide the program. Through the agreement, Southern Miss Gulf Coast, partnered with MDE and the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities, plans to effectively address MDE’s goals of pre-service and in-service training for teachers, paraprofessionals and related service personnel while providing services to students.

For more information, contact the Autism Project at 228.863.1755 or email autism@usm.edu.