As the rate of autism perpetually increases, so too does the need for qualified special educators.
This year, the San Diego State Alumni Association recognized the importance of this relationship by awarding a Faculty Monty to Dr. Laura Hall.
Hall, a professor of special education in SDSU’s College of Education, was recognized for contributions to the university, including the creation of a master’s degree specialization in autism.
According to Hall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the prevalence of children with autism spectrum disorders is one in 110. For boys, the rate is even more daunting, one in 70.
“This autism program has been the highlight of my career,” Hall said. “Mostly it’s the students and the relationships that I form with them. I watch them grow and learn and become such competent professionals and colleagues. It warms my heart because I know they’re having a positive influence on children with autism and their families.”
Hall first learned how to teach children with autism at the internationally renowned Princeton Child Development Institute. She now sits on the board of the National Foundation for Autism Research.
The idea for the master’s program came after a Saturday course, Issues in Autism, was offered to SDSU students and community members.
Hall said it blossomed from there into a program first supported by an Office of Special Education Programs federal grant. It is now an established university concentration and specialization that has enrolled approximately 50 students.
“One of the aspects of the program that’s a benefit to students is that it embeds coursework and practical experiences toward becoming a board-certified behavior analyst,” Hall said.
Students learn about applied behavior analysis, an evidence-based practice widely considered to be the state-of-the-art therapy for autism. Later, they have the opportunity to hone their ABA skills through practicum.
“The program also focuses on collaboration with families,” Hall said. “It has multicultural perspective because of the diverse families that we serve.”
The heavy Monty statue is now proudly displayed atop a cabinet in Hall’s office.
“It’s one of the highest honors that I’ve received,” she said. “Getting the support and recognition from peers is very noteworthy.”