UNM Training Grant to Improve Special Ed Teaching

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By Jacob Trasen / New Mexico News Port

The University of New Mexico Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences was recently awarded an $830,000 grant that will help create the “Project SCENES” program at UNM. 

This program is designed to help teach UNM students to more effectively work with young students with autism and other special education needs.

Assistant Professor Speech and Hearing Sciences at UNM Cindy Geverter explained the grant to the “Lightning Lounge” audience on campus on April 13.

UNM students who are admitted to the Project SCENES program will each receive $26,500 in education funds and will participate in a hands-on summer clinic, working with young children who have displayed early signs of autism.

They will use what Geverter described as a “naturalistic intervention” approach, which allows the child to learn or interact however they wish to, but in a controlled environment. 

That means, “not allowing them to just do whatever they want,” Geverter said. The program instructors will control the environment and select a range of appropriate toys and activities for children to choose from.

Project SCENES scholars will also receive specialized coursework, clinical experience and leadership training in a number of different areas. 

These topics include evidence-based practices for children with autism, typical language development and communication support, and collaborative approaches for working with culturally and linguistically diverse families.

The Project SCENES program will focus on those areas of learning for the UNM students and will be a two-year program for them. All students in the program will complete practicums their first year. During their second year, students will work with a community agency, organization, or school to provide training to professionals or families with an issue of autism.

Geverter said that the overall goal of Project SCENES is to increase the number of special education professionals and speech-language pathologists with specialized knowledge of social communication interventions for children with autism in the state of New Mexico.

Geverter explained that this program will work with children who show signs and the families of those children while they’re young.

“Research generally shows that early intervention is key,” she said.

Jacob Trasen is a reporter for New Mexico News Port and can be reached at nmnewsport@gmail.com.