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UGA receives $1.25 million to help schools treat children with aggressive behavior

Athens, Ga. – A five-year $1.25 million federal grant will help the University of Georgia College of Education launch a new graduate program to train behavior specialists how to assess and treat children with developmental disabilities who show severe aggressive behavior.

The project’s aim is to train more school staff in behavior management-so that there are fewer disruptions in classrooms and students learn better. Ultimately, having behavior specialists on staff could save school systems money by not having to hire outside consultation and out-of-school placement for these students.

Researchers Kevin Ayres and Scott Ardoin, both associate professors in the College of Education, said the project will also generate more knowledge about how to work with these children through the research they conduct.

Nearly 80 percent of the grant will support fellowships for students who enroll in the new master’s or educational specialist degree programs in special education. Fellowship recipients will be required to work with children with disabilities for two years for each one full-time academic year of funding. The program’s first students will enroll for spring semester 2014.

About one in six children in the U.S. has one or more developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders. Children with developmental disabilities can have behavioral outbursts for no apparent reason. Educators may have difficulty managing their behavior and teaching them appropriate ways to interact with others.

Numerous studies have shown that teachers’ number one challenge is coping with disruptive students. In fact, teachers frequently report lack of preparation in behavior management as a primary reason for leaving the field.

“If a school system calls in a Board Certified Behavior Analyst to conduct an evaluation, that BCBA will charge $3,000 to $5,000. A large system might do this seven or eight times per year,” said Ayres, who is directing the program. “For students who need to be served outside of the system, they will spend about $60,000 per student. This might be 5-10 students per year, depending on the size of the district.”

Ayres said that if school systems employed behavior specialists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and school psychologists who are trained to assess these children’s behavior and find effective treatments for them, there would be more inclusive placements, better teacher retention, lower costs for schools and better learning outcomes.

“We are training people to work as behavior specialists specifically to help reduce these sorts of behaviors and save districts money,” said Ayres. “There are less than 200 board certified behavior analysts in the state and we are hoping to change that.”

The program will graduate at least 30 new behavior analysts and train another 30 individuals who are not directly part of the program but who will benefit from the coursework. Graduates of the course must pass a national examination to become board certified behavior analysts.

Students in the program must take 38 graduate credit hours of classes on behavioral support for children with developmental disabilities who display severe aggressive behavior. They must also receive 1,000 hours of real-world experience in area schools and UGA clinics. In addition, the students will participate in an intensive “boot camp” focusing on the underlying environmental reasons for severe aggressive behavior at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta.

“This project will help children and families in our community who need this type of support,” said Ayres. “We hope we can make a difference in special education and in understanding children with developmental disabilities. We also hope that the research generated from this project will help improve the quality and efficiency of the service available to these children and their families here and across the nation.”

For more information about the program, contact Ayres at