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Grad students will play role in Cleveland Clinic ‘mirror program’

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Posted on June 17, 2010

Cal U has entered into a partnership with Highlands Hospital, a not-for-profit community hospital in Connellsville, Pa., that promises advanced training for Cal U students in the Department of Special Education and a brighter future for children with autism.

The hospital in Fayette County - one of Pennsylvania's most medically underserved regions - has announced it will work with the nationally recognized Cleveland Clinic to develop state-of-the-art services for children with autism in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The program's building, staff training and curriculum will mirror a program that has been operating for 10 years at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism in Ohio.

Graduate students from Cal U will prepare for careers in special education by participating in clinical experiences at the new autism center, scheduled to open next year at Highlands Hospital.

Dr. Kevin Koury, dean of the College of Education and Human Services, represented Cal U when the partnership was announced June 16 near Connellsville.

Cal U's graduate program in special education offers a certificate in teaching children with autism, he said, "and the certificate of study in autism adds to the value of our students' degree."

Cal U's graduate program has taught Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), the approach used by the Cleveland Clinic's autism program, for many years, he added.

"Our graduate students are energetic, well-prepared and well-supervised," he said. "With the increasing incidence of autism spectrum disorders, we are proud to be a part of this, and we thank you for including us in this partnership."

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1 in every 94 children in the United States has some form of autism. In rural Fayette County, Pa., an estimated 444 individuals ages 5-24 are affected by this complex developmental disability that appears in early childhood and affects communication and social interaction. Statistics suggest that an additional 82 Fayette County children younger than 5 also will be diagnosed.

Cleveland Clinic Autism Development Solutions (CCADS) will assist Highlands Hospital in designing and staffing the new Autism Center, which will offer developmental screening and a day program that children with autism will attend five days a week, year-round.

Empirical studies conducted by Cleveland Clinic show that the program's approach, Applied Behavioral Analysis, is effective in teaching basic and complex skills to children with autism. California University students will learn to apply their ABA skills by working with Highlands professionals who have been trained by CCADS staff. 

This is the first time that Cleveland Clinic has partnered with a health-care provider in southwestern Pennsylvania.

No similar program is available in the region, which has one of the highest poverty rates in Pennsylvania. Many Fayette County families lack both economic resources and basic transportation, making it difficult for them to access services for their children on the autism spectrum. The hospital will offer both community-based autism services and community awareness education to encourage early diagnoses.

Highlands Hospital will be the nation's third health-care provider to open an Autism Center with assistance from Cleveland Clinic Autism Development Solutions. Successful programs are under way at Highlands Regional Medical Center in Prestonburg, Ky., and at the Ozark Center for Autism in Joplin, Mo.


Highlands Hospital is a not-for-profit community hospital located in Fayette County in rural southwestern Pennsylvania. Licensed for 71 beds, the hospital provides emergent, in-patient and ambulatory family care to Connellsville, Pa. (population 9,200) and the surrounding region. Highlands Hospital employs approximately 400 full-time and part-time staff.

Cleveland Clinic Autism Development Solutions is a highly specialized business within the Autism Center at Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital in Ohio. CCADS makes available a full service development product to other agencies and health-care systems. CCADS provides the total framework for large-scale facility and clinical program development, from designing "eduscapes," staff development and individual student curriculum to establishing all necessary procedures and organizational processes and opportunities for research collaboration.

California University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1852, is a mid-size university located along the Monongahela River just 35 miles from Pittsburgh, Pa. Its 9,000 students may choose among 150 undergraduate majors/concentrations and 50 graduate programs in liberal arts, science and technology, education and human services, and professional studies. A proud member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Cal U is dedicated to building character and careers.