Campus News Society & Culture

UGA grad program preparing teachers to work with children with autism

David Gast

$1.2 million grant received

Athens, Ga. – An innovative University of Georgia graduate program in special education, that has prepared dozens of area elementary school teachers to work with children with autism over the past several years, has received a new federal grant of $1.2 million to continue its work through 2017.

The Collaborative Personnel Preparation in Autism project is a partnership between UGA special education faculty and four area public school systems: Clarke, Gwinnett, Madison and Oconee counties.

More than 70 percent of the funding will be used to fund 45 highly qualified and adaptive curriculum certified public school teachers to serve children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in grades K-5.

“I’ll be looking to recruit students across disciplines-education, psychology, child and family development, and related fields-who have an interest in and experience with children with autism disorder and would like to compete for fellowships to pay for their graduate education in special education,” said David Gast, professor of special education and director of the COPPA Project.

Applicants for the fellowships will be considered from across the nation. Priority will be given to persons with ASD experience, who are from underrepresented groups, and who are not currently certified in special education.
The graduate students will learn how to: use evidence-based practices when serving children with ASD in inclusive educational settings; provide consultation, in-service training, and disseminate evidence-based information; and conduct applied research with children with ASD and/or their families.

It is anticipated that six full-time students, who will receive full funding ($22,000 in the first year), will be admitted each year, and another five part-time students will be admitted and receive partial funding. Students will be prepared to teach children with ASD who, when diagnosed, function in the moderate to profound range of intellectual disabilities. Funded students will enroll in three ASD didactic courses, two ASD practica, and an ASD internship, along with other courses required for Georgia state certification in Adapted Curriculum. Program course work can be used toward being a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

To broaden the impact of the project, non-funded students from special and general education, as well as students from related fields (psychology, child/family development, social work, speech pathology, etc.) will be recruited to enroll in one or more of the ASD grant-supported courses. In addition to offering ASD courses on UGA’s main campus, core ASD courses will be offered at UGA’s satellite campus in Gwinnett and, in the future, on the Web. UGA courses will be taught by Gast, Jennifer Ledford, and Kevin Ayres, and ASD courses at UGA’s Gwinnett campus will be taught by Diana Hammond, co-director of the COPPA Project and coordinator of ASD programs for Gwinnett County Public Schools.

Gast and Deanna Luscre, who coordinated the ASD program for Gwinnett County Public Schools from 1996-2003, developed COPPA in 2003 with an initial four-year grant of $894,000 from the U.S. Department of the Education. It received a second four-year grant of $793,000 in 2007.

For more information on the COPPA Project and graduate studies in ASD, degree (M.A, M.Ed., M.A.T, Ed.S, Ph.D.) and non-degree, contact David Gast at Additional information regarding the COPPA project and other special education programs offered at UGA is available at In addition, information on the Study Abroad in Ireland: Developmental Disabilities six-week summer program, which includes placements serving children with ASD, can be accessed on this website.

Founded in 1908, the UGA College of Education offers 14 undergraduate majors and more than 34 graduate programs leading to careers as educators, counselors, psychologists, administrators, researchers, and educational and health-related specialists.