Baylor’s Center for Developmental Disabilities faculty address autism in light of national month

Dr. Sarah Mire (right) and Dr. Kristen Padilla (right) are both working on research dedicated to individuals with autism. Photo courtesy of Kristen Padilla

By Sarah Wang | Staff Writer

Baylor faculty in the Center for Developmental Disabilities addressed autism from different angles as the end of Autism Awareness Month approaches.

Since 1970, April has been known as Autism Awareness Month, which aims to serve people with disabilities and spread awareness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a “developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” About one in 36 children have been identified to have this disability.

“Autism affects individuals differently. What this rising statistic does illustrate is the pressing needs of this population regarding research, assessment and individualized interventions,” Dr. Kristen Padilla, director of Baylor’s Center for Developmental Disabilities, said.

Padilla said faculty at the center possess specialized expertise and conduct innovative research in areas that affect the spectrum of needs for autistic individuals. These areas include challenging behavior, skill acquisition, play skills, parent training, sibling support, assessment and graduate education and training.

“Through these clinical training and research experiences, we are able to provide a much-needed service to the greater Waco community, the state of Texas and beyond,” Padilla said. “Globally speaking, there’s still so much to learn about autism, and we, as the research community, need to be continuously learning from our research and the research of others.”

A part of Baylor’s Center for Developmental Disabilities, the Baylor Autism Resource Clinic is coordinated by Dr. Kelsey Ragan, clinical assistant professor in the educational psychology department.

Through services like diagnostic assessments, counseling, community trainings, research projects and local advocacy, the autism resource clinic has made long-term efforts to serve the community.

Ragan said she became the coordinator of the clinic in August 2020, but the clinic had a strong history long before she joined the team.

“I think [raising] awareness is one of the most important aspects of what we strive to do,” Ragan said. “This might mean helping parents obtain the services their child needs through providing a diagnosis, enabling autistic teens to self-advocate through skills taught in therapy or even producing research that informs the larger society about topics in this area.”

Ragan also said she believes it is important for people to know more about autism.

“I would want to emphasize that autism is a spectrum and that no two autistic people look the same,” Ragan said. “So we should avoid making assumptions about what an autistic person is like or what they can achieve, as there is tremendous diversity within this community of people.”

Dr. Sarah Mire, director of School Psychology Autism Research Collaboration, said she connects research and practice through her studies. She also supports people in systems surrounding children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.

“[School psychology autism research collaboration’s] most important mission is to conduct research that will help us understand ways that family, school and healthcare systems can best understand each other and work together on behalf of children diagnosed with autism,” Mire said.

Tackling autism from a different perspective, Mire said her research focuses on people involved with supporting children with autism, such as their families, parents, caregivers, school personnel and health care providers.