UTRGV Expands Autism Program Across the Valley


UTRGV Expands Autism Program Across the Valley

UTRGV’s College of Education and P-16 Integration will be able to continue its parent-directed treatment program for children with autism spectrum for another two years.

The program began in 2018 and previously served only the lower Cameron County area. It will now expand across the entire Rio Grande Valley. A nearly $500,000 continuation grant by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board funds the program.

Dr. Hsuying Ward, a UTRGV associate professor with Human Development and School Services, is the principal investigator on the grant.

“The increase in the autism population has continued,” Ward said. “Right now, one out of 10 kids with disabilities has autism, and our local increase mirrors the national increase.”

A wider reach

The parent-directed treatment program will provide training and support for 320 parents of those from 3 to 21 years of age who are on the autism spectrum.

It also delivers a bilingual, evidence-based training program to help Hispanic parents. The program looks to improve confidence, psychological flexibility and emotional well-being. It also seeks to improve communication, social behaviors and social interactions among children or adolescents with autism.

“We want to train parents to be able to manage the situation, because often, their children come with greater needs, like behavior and sensory needs,” Ward said. “Parents being able to manage these things helps our schools help their children, which is the most efficient way to educate children with autism.”

The first cohort of 60 parent participants began July 1. There will be a new cohort every three months during the grant cycle, with nine monthly workshops. A new feature of the program is the implementation of small groups, which now will be led by trained parent leaders. The small group structuring is by age and need. It also provides for the specific needs of the different spectrums of autism.

Parents may register for the program online.