Students in Lubbock Christian University’s Department of Communication and Fine Arts welcomed adult-learners with autism to the campus art studio. The adult-learners are a part of the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research at Texas Tech University, and this event continues a partnership that has benefitted both programs for several years.

LCU students majoring in art worked directly with the visiting adult-learners, helping them as they worked with clay and pottery.

LCU students worked with the Burkhart learners as they created clay sculptures.
Mary Katherine Dillard, the Board-Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) for the Burkhart Center’s Transition Academy, shared, “In our Work Readiness Program, our adult students are learning vocational skills, life skills, and really getting ready for the real world in a job someday. We've partnered with Professor Howell’s class, again, giving her students a chance for some hands-on practice working with adults with autism.”

The Burkhart Center’s Work Readiness Program is an 18-month-long program for adults with autism to enhance their social skills, training and employability skills, and job endurance with the goal of helping these students attain jobs once they’ve completed the program.

The partnership between LCU’s art programs and the Burkhart Center began in 2016 under the direction of Dr. Michelle Kraft and was designed to give the Burkhart students opportunities to work in art, while also giving LCU students hands-on experience in working with learners with autism. Professor Ronelle Howell, the LCU Program Director for Visual Arts since 2018, shared that this collaboration with the Burkhart students is a key component of a unique class that has focused on reclaiming disabled education.

Professor Ronell Howell has led LCU's art program for the past seven years.
“The class is called Contemporary Issues in Art Education, and we focus on building our students’ knowledge and understanding, even looking into school law with regard to disabled education,” she explained. Her students took several trips to local care centers and schools in which they could observe and work with different teachers who specialize in art with special education students.

Professor Howell continued, “They've spent the last six weeks of class building lessons, which they would first make for typically-abled people, and then we discuss how we would modify it for various situations. This was all working toward today, where they get to work directly with the students from the Transition Academy.”

Christopher Ramos, Transition Academy Coordinator and Employment Specialist with the Burkhart Center, shared how much he appreciates the time these students from both institutions are able to share.

“It’s such a neat thing, because we’re providing our future teachers with experience working with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). When I worked for smaller school districts, typically kids with ASD were placed in art courses as an elective, so we focused on how to engage them. What are you going to see? What are some strategies? Professor Howell has done a great job with her classes,” he added, sharing that he’s visited these students three different times throughout the year.

LCU students received hands-on teaching experience with the Burkhart learners, which they prepared for all semester.
Professor Howell explained, “It's a 4300-level class, which means it’s for our senior students, and they have to start constructing their own knowledge for when they will step into the classroom—I’m not going to be there to tell them what to do. How do we fully prepare them for the role that they're going into? Even though my students might be teaching elementary school, it's got to start there. They need their minds, ears, eyes, intellect, and abilities in place to adjust to any situation on the ground. We grow them to be independent, as teachers.”

As a part of this program, LCU’s students were also able to visit the Burkhart Center’s facility. “It’s always helpful for future teachers to see our students across the lifespan,” Ramos continued. “They’re not in middle school, elementary, or high school—this is them in adulthood. It's a good collaboration for them to participate in alternative activities outside of our art programs. And about once a year, our students get to sell their stuff on the First Friday Art Trail, and so they get to go into the community and engage with people and say, ‘This was my product, and I made it.’”

For individuals looking to get involved with the Burkhart Center’s mission, Mary Katherine shared that there are several opportunities. “We’re always looking for volunteers for things like Parents Night Out,” she explained. “We also do an annual walk in April for Autism World Day.”

This partnership between LCU’s art program and the Burkhart Center places students working with students, and as LCU’s art students work with the adult learners from Burkhard in the art studio, the blessings were evident on both sides of the table. Future teachers from LCU gain valuable experience learning how to best adapt their lessons to fit and serve each student, and the adult learners from Burkhart learn to express their creativity through art and improve their social skills.

“It’s all give-and-take,” said Professor Howell, “and it’s something that we hope continues for many years.”