Stephanie Cortez

Better EARLY than never

November 30, 2021

On Nov. 19, researchers from the UTSA College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Educational Psychology were awarded a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for Project EARLY  — “Evidence-based Action, Research and Learning to support Young children with or at risk for autism.” 

The new program will help UTSA students bridge the gap between classroom and career; they will be trained to become therapists with the ability to treat children with neurodivergent disorders. Graduate students that have been selected for the program will be expected to complete a paid internship with the Autism Treatment Center and will be granted financial benefits amounting to $25,000. Project EARLY is a revolutionary program that will benefit a historically underserved community. 

The stigma surrounding mental health is more than just a nuisance or burden: stigmas directly affect whether or not a person is likely to seek help for their disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “more than half of people with mental illness don’t receive help for their disorders.” Harmful effects of stigma include “reduced hope,” “lower self-esteem,” “increased psychiatric symptoms,” “difficulties with social relationships,” “reduced likelihood of staying with treatment” and “more difficulties at work” (APA). 

As social media use increases and people throughout the world gain connection and community, vulnerability has entered the equation — allowing people to share their struggles and realize they are far from alone. In doing so, the stigma surrounding mental health, while not completely erased from existence, is beginning to fade. As more and more people talk about practices to maintain mental health, many have sung the praises of therapy — yet, like many things in life, starting a therapeutic journey is easier said than done. It is a journey in and of itself to find a therapist accepting appointments, let alone one that fits a person’s financial, insurance or mental needs. Specifically, with children with autism, there is a shortage of therapists willing to treat them. According to Psychiatric Services, “the supply of certified applied behavior analysis (ABA) providers is insufficient to meet the needs of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in nearly every state.”

As it becomes more imperative that we as a society move with the times, it is only right that UTSA does the same. Project EARLY serves as a testament to UTSA’s commitment to inclusivity. “UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.” The integration of Project EARLY reflects the inclusive environment encouraged by UTSA — a promising start to a bright future.

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