Texas Tech Expert Discusses Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month, and Texas Tech University's Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research has several activities planned to increase awareness.

David Richman, professor and chair of the Burkhart Center, said it is important to understand that people with autism are not defined by their disability and medical diagnosis.

"Disabilities are just another form of diversity," Richman said. "We can enhance the diversity of experiences for our students and employees by exposing them to one of the largest minority groups, people with disabilities."

Richman said the Burkhart Center has three primary focuses: helping prepare future regular and special education teachers to instruct children with autism, providing direct service to families affected by autism in our community, and conducting research in a wide range of areas, such as assessment and treatment of behavioral problems and behavioral patterns within neurodevelopmental disorders.

The center is interested in facilitating social interaction between young adults with or without disabilities on Texas Tech's campus, Richman said. People with developmental disabilities often go straight from high school to vocational-supported employment, and miss out on the years of socializing with their peers and continuing their educational experiences and personal growth.

"Typically, college students are warm and welcoming to this," Richman said. "Including people with developmental disabilities on college campuses has been done successfully on other campuses around the country."

Richman said changing attitudes about people with autism or other disabilities is the best way to acknowledge autism awareness.

"They are a person first," Richman said. "We need to watch ourselves and correct the way we speak about people with autism and other disabilities."

They should be referred to as an individual with autism rather than an autistic, Richman said. One of the first steps toward complete acceptance is for the masses to respect people with disabilities, and one simple way to do this is to change how we refer to them in our everyday language.

Aside from the ongoing work done by the Burkhart Center for individuals with autism, they are also providing several activities in which the community can participate in for Autism Awareness month, including the Walk for Autism Awareness from 2-4 p.m. April 17 at Jones AT&T stadium.

"It's a free, fun, festive occasion," Richman said, "and it's a chance to see a lighter side of autism."

To find more ways to support Autism Awareness Month contact Susan Voland, susan.voland@ttu.edu.

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