Autism and Communication Center opens

Cal Lutheran faculty to conduct research, share resources

(THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – July 18, 2016) Young people with autism who have difficulty speaking are discovering other methods to communicate, and California Lutheran University is starting a center to support them in the search.

The number of people identified as being on the autism spectrum has dramatically climbed to 1 in 68 births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 30 and 40 percent of children with autism spectrum disorders speak minimally or not at all.

The primary goal of the Autism and Communication Center is to provide information on various augmentative and alternative communication strategies including keyboards, letter boards and brain/computer interface systems so that children and young adults with autism who struggle to speak can have their voices heard and connect to their communities. The center will also promote practices that support inclusive communities and schools, from preschool through college. Cal Lutheran faculty members from several disciplines will conduct research, present workshops and conferences, and provide information and support to individuals with autism and their teachers, families, caregivers and school administrators.

Beth Brennan, associate dean of the Graduate School of Education and director of special education programs, and Edlyn Peña, director of doctoral studies and an associate professor of higher education leadership, founded the center and serve as co-directors.

Peña, who has a son on the autism spectrum, is a member of the federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee and on Tuesday she will present research she conducted with Cal Lutheran associate professor of psychology Jodie Kocur on supporting college students with autism in Washington, D.C., and in a webcast. In 2015, the American College Personnel Association recognized the Camarillo resident for her influential research.

Brennan began her career as an instructional aide in a program for students with significant disabilities and went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate in special education. The Westlake Village resident is an expert on supporting students with autism and inclusive classrooms for students with disabilities.

The idea for the center grew out of the enthusiastic response to the Spectrum of Opportunity: Autism, Inclusion and Communication Conference, which Cal Lutheran presented in March. More than 400 people from Florida, New Jersey, Texas and throughout California attended. The speakers included people with autism who have learned to communicate through alternative methods and educators who work with students who type.

The opening of the center will be celebrated at a free event at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 29 on the Thousand Oaks campus featuring a keynote presentation by the author of “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.” The second Spectrum of Opportunity conference will be held Oct. 8.

For more information, email autismcenter@callutheran.edu or visit callutheran.edu/autism.