Tech Strives To Accomodate & Bring Awareness To Autism

Construction workers hard at work building the brand new Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research. Photo by Alicia Keene.

All semester, some students have been able to look through the Foreign Languages Building windows during class and watch a parking lot be ripped apart for the construction of a new building.

This new building is the future home of The Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research that has occupied a section of the College of Education Building since its founding in 2005.

Wesley H. Dotson, Ph.D., an assistant professor and the director of outpatient services for the center, said the new state-of-the-art building should be open in September.

Dotson said the main donors are the Burkharts, a couple inspired by their autistic grandson who wants to improve conditions for those with autism in West Texas.

A stand-alone building has always been a part of the Burkharts’ long-term plan, he said.

Along with the Burkharts’ donation, Dotson said raising funds has been a community and university effort. In addition, he said Subway helped support funds because there will be a Subway, as well as a coffee shop, in the building open to students.

Dotson said the center’s Transition Academy students, who are not actual Tech students, will work at and help run the Subway and coffee shop as a way to learn job skills. He said the center wants as many people as possible to interact with the autistic students and realize they are normal people, too.

He said the new building will have a whole suite devoted to the Transition Academy, including a classroom and a vocational rehabilitation room, a full apartment to learn independent living skills, and a gym. He said the building will also have a laboratory pre-school, an outpatient clinic with four observation therapy rooms, research space, and faculty offices.

The center’s three primary missions are to provide autism services in the West Texas area, prepare the next generation of teachers, and conduct research that will improve the quality of life for those with autism, he said.

Transition student Sam Shreffler said since he started attending the center, he has gotten his own residence and paying job, and is on the verge of getting his own car.

“In the past, before I even knew about this center, I was still living with my parents, waiting on them hand and foot, and I was just ready to graduate from that stage,” Shreffler said.

As a senior in the program, he said he is hoping to take interior designing classes in the future.

“It has always been my passion, helping out different people and the spaces they live in,” Shreffler.

Another transition student, Spencer Ragland, said the center has helped her obtain a credit card, a paying job, and meeting new people and friends.

After she graduates from the program, Ragland said she is hoping to go to nursing school to become a certified nurse because helping people is her passion.

The center is holding a Walk for Autism Awareness on Sunday at the Jones AT&T Stadium to raise funds for the center’s programming.

Ragland said the walk is going to be awesome because there will be activities such as music, games and face-painting.

About Alicia Keene

Graduate Executive Director
Alicia Keene is a dual master’s student from Austin, Texas studying mass communication and business. One day, she hopes to work for a prominent news publication in a major city as either a reporter or producer.

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