February 2023

Grant-funded Project Communicate to prepare special education teachers and future speech-language pathologists to better serve students with autism

The 5-year program is funded by a $1,244,239 grant from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

DENTON (UNT), Texas – Dr. Miriam Chacon Boesch, associate professor in the UNT College of Education and principal investigator on the grant, and Dr. Kat Aoyama, associate professor in the College of Health and Public Service Department of Audiology & Speech-Language Pathology and co-principal investigator, plan to recruit a total of 37 students across three Master’s degree cohorts, with the first cohort starting in the Fall 2023 semester. Participants will receive tuition benefits and textbook stipends. Students earning a Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology will be full-time students who receive additional training in autism intervention. Master’s of Education in Special Education – Autism Intervention students will be certified educators currently teaching in local school districts and will attend UNT part-time.

Students will receive additional training not offered in regular coursework, such as monthly seminars with scholars, fully funded conference attendance, and a job coach for the special education teachers who visits the school districts to provide evidence-based, one-on-one training.

“All of these learning opportunities are designed to develop school-based professionals to be highly capable of meeting the needs of students with autism,” Dr. Boesch said.

The scholars in speech-language pathology program and the special education teachers will cross-train and become even stronger professionals by working together in the field.

“We are very excited for this opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Boesch and the College of Education,” Dr. Aoyama said. “This project will provide additional training as well as financial support, and we are excited to select the first cohort of scholars for speech-language pathology.”

The ultimate goal of the program is to graduate scholars who are experts in working with students with autism who have higher needs, such as communication and behavioral challenges. And the hope is that the incentives from the program will help recruit a more diverse base of cohorts to reflect the population in area school districts.

“To better serve students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, it is critical that we increase the number of school-based professionals who are also from similar backgrounds,” Dr. Boesch said. “Research shows that students tend to have better academic outcomes when they are taught by educators who are equally diverse.”

For more information on the program, visit coe.unt.edu/project-communicate.