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Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008 01:40 am

Creating quality lives

Springfield native shows how to reach children with autism

Barbara Doyle

Barbara Doyle didn't set out to become an autism specialist.

The Springfield native started her career in education more than 30 years ago as a teacher for the deaf. She helped develop a sign-language program for deaf people with autism-spectrum disorders, and after that, she says, she couldn't stop herself from getting more involved. Doyle's interest in ASD — a group of developmental disabilities that can affect a person's social, emotional, and communication development — intensified further a few years later when physicians diagnosed autism in her young nephew.

Since then Doyle has published an award-winning autism manual and travels around the country to educate families, teachers, and clinicians on improving the lives of people with ASD and other disabilities. She consults with schools and service providers and helps students at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine understand how ASD might affect their future patients.

As the numbers increase — 1 in 150 people in the United States now have a diagnosis of ASD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Doyle says her main focus is to teach practical strategies to help support people with autism.

"You have to focus on the right things," Doyle says. "You have to prioritize with an eye on the future and help them create quality lives."

Her nephew is living proof that success is possible, she says. Now 23 years old, he recently graduated from college with a degree in accounting.

But more education on ASD is needed, Doyle says. She's spoken with students in graduate education classes who only had one or two lessons on autism and hopes that this will change as awareness spreads.

Doyle will present her practical strategies and more information to Springfield-area teachers in a seminar, "Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the General Education Classroom: Get Off to a Great Start this Year," 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15, in the Learning Center at the Hope Institute for Children and Families, 15 East Hazel Dell Lane. She'll share ways to increase learning through the use of visual cues, routines, and other methods and tactics to reduce disruptive behaviors and identify underlying learning issues.

The workshop is designed to help the entire classroom function more efficiently. For example, Doyle explains, many students with ASD have difficulty dealing with change, but if a teacher learns to provide advance warning all students can benefit. The same is true of such cues as signs and color-coded systems, she adds, because most people are visual learners.

Doyle hopes that teachers will also use her techniques to make it easier for students with ASD to fit in with their fellow students by showing that they have the same feelings and needs as everyone else.

"I don't view children with autism as autistics," Doyle says. "They're not a separate breed — we need to look at their humanity first."

Anyone with an interest in ASD is invited to attend Doyle's seminar, which is being hosted by The Autism Program of Illinois. Registration is $25. For more information or to sign up, call 217-525-8332.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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