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Partner Spotlight: Barbara Becker-Cottrill, Ed. D., Executive Director, West Virginia Autism Training Center, Marshall University
Barbara Becker-Cottrill, Ed. D., Executive Director, West Virginia Autism Training Center, Marshall University
As executive director of Marshall University’s West Virginia Autism Training Center, Dr. Barbara Becker-Cottrill has dedicated her professional life to children with autism. During her 15 years in this position, she and her team have worked to equip hundreds of families, educators, and other care providers with the training they need to help children with autism reach their full potential.

Serving as the principle investigator for a CDC autism surveillance project being conducted in West Virginia, Becker-Cottrill first became aware of the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign through involvement in the project’s education and outreach committee. After learning that the campaign was focused on early intervention messages, Becker-Cottrill attended campaign training in October 2004, and knew that she could use her resources as executive director to help thousands in West Virginia affected by childhood developmental disorders.

“Once I was trained on the early intervention messages of the campaign and was introduced to all the tools and materials available, I knew that the West Virginia Autism Training Center could use its partnerships and connections to reach parents and educators across the state,” says Becker-Cottrill.

She introduced the campaign to the Autism Society of West Virginia and presented it at the organization’s annual state conference. At that conference, Becker-Cottrill partnered with a local advocate and nurse who has a grandson with autism and helped distribute nearly 40 campaign health care professional kits.

“The campaign materials both empower and comfort the people we train,” says Becker-Cottrill. “The kits and developmental milestone fact sheets are great pieces to educate parents and help increase dialogue between parents and doctors.”

Becker-Cottrill also understands the power of networking. Her job allows her to speak with lots of different people and groups about childhood development and the importance of early detection and intervention. She recently included the campaign in a presentation she gave to nearly 500 doctors, nurses, and physicians’ assistants at the West Virginia Family Practice conference on the importance of recognizing and treating autism spectrum disorders.

An attendee at one of Becker-Cottrill’s recent presentations, a mother of a child with autism, was so inspired that she worked with her local chapter of the Autism Society of West Virginia chapter to purchase advertising space in a local magazine and place a heartfelt, open letter to other moms in the community urging them to monitor their child’s development.

“The letter was a great way to communicate with people on a large scale,” says Becker-Cottrill. “By having a mom and active autism champion share her personal story, it really inspires others to get involved and take action.”

Becker-Cottrill also knows the power that media has in raising awareness. The West Virginia Autism Training Center has 12 trainers across the state reaching out to local media with the campaign public service announcements (PSAs). Becker-Cottrill feels that the campaign PSAs are another effective way to promote early intervention and to localize communication by “tagging” or including an organization’s contact information at the end of the PSA.

Perhaps one of the most significant contributions to Becker-Cottrill’s success in sharing early childhood development messages has been the partnership of the West Virginia Autism Training Center with Marshall University’s medical school and departments of psychiatry, communication disorders, and psychology to develop a comprehensive evaluation clinic for pediatric assessment. Currently in pilot stage, the clinic is a state-of-the-art facility for evaluating children with autism and developmental disabilities.

“With an increase in childhood development awareness messages, we suspected that the demand for evaluation would increase,” says Becker-Cottrill. “The clinic was an outgrowth of the campaign because we needed a place in our area with a specialty in the diagnosis of autism and related disorders.”

Using her professional opportunities resourcefully, Dr. Barbara Becker-Cottrill has had significant success in helping to spread the awareness messages of the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign. Her dedication as an active campaign champion is helping reach millions of parents and children.

For more information on how you can reach out to health professionals in your area, visit the How to Get Involved page of the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” website.

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