When we think of autism, one may conclude that it is an isolated disability limited only to the person diagnosed with it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is, in fact a mental condition that not only affects the individual, but their families, friends and loved ones as well. Fortunately, every day strides are being made to give those with Autism a voice. Dr. Fredda Brown, Queens College Professor in Programs in Special Education and past Director of Queens College Regional Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders (QC-RCASD) serves as a prime example of how a person’s dedication and respect of those with differences can bring about a change in the lives of those with disabilities, and their loved ones.
Dr. Brown developed and was approved to offer the New York State Training in the Needs of Children with Autism at Queens College. This training is being offered through the Continuing Education Department at QC. Training will be offered on a regular basis, with the next session to be held November 29 from 5:30pm to 8:30pm on campus. This training is required for all special educators and administrators. The instructor for the workshop will include Special Education faculty member, Dr. Christopher Oliva, who has had many years of experience with individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum. The overall purpose of the training is to educate those in education and give tools in learning how to properly teach and relate to individuals with disabilities and the educational and behavioral obstacles they are faced with daily.
Dr. Brown’s study of severe disabilities began years ago with an internship in her Masters program. “It really just happened. In my Master’s program, it started with field placement assignment at Queens (New York) Developmental Center at Creedmoor,” says Brown. The internship lead to an off-campus learning opportunity with individuals who had left Willowbrook State School in Staten Island. Brown had been aware of what these individuals had experienced because of the 1972 expose’ from famed news reporter Geraldo Rivera who uncovered the inhumane treatment of its patients with severe disabilities. “It really grabbed me knowing people were treated so horribly. I then spent most of my career advocating for the rights of all people,” she reveals.
Although Brown recognizes a positive shift in services for those with severe disabilities, she feels there is still a long way to go. “There are many instructional strategies that have been developed that are effective in having children gain important skills in schools and that support them to meaningfully participate in integrated community settings. However, we have a long way to go. Although these strategies exist, we need better monitoring of the quality of programs so that we better ensure that children have access to these effective strategies.”
For now, Brown will continue her research and advocacy for individuals with disabilities. Her goals include eliminating harsh intervention tactics such as contingent electric skin shock. “I would like to see the NYS and all state education departments have policies and regulation to prohibit the use of aversive intervention,” Brown proclaims. With more effective and respectful programs for individuals with disabilities on the increase, there is great reason for optimism.