More than 150 people gathered at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday for the unveiling of UNT’s newest addition, the Kristin Farmer Autism Center, located at 490 S. Interstate-35E Frontage Rd. Prior to the traditional ribbon-cutting, UNT President V. Lane Rawlins, the center’s executive director Kevin Callahan and chief benefactor Kristin Farmer briefly addressed the audience about the project, which has been in the works for more than a decade.
(Left to Right) Lee Jackson, Chancelor of the UNT System; Kevin Callahan, Kristen Farmer Autism Center executive director; Lane Rawlins, UNT President; and Kristen Farmer, Kristen Farmer Autism Center chief benefactor
“With the center’s opening I hope to make a bigger difference in autism studies one family, one student at a time,” Farmer said during her speech.
Following the speech, two handcrafted crystal bookends were presented to Farmer on behalf of the university for her dedication to the cause and her willingness to give back to her alma mater.
The center will offer a wide range of programs, including full-time individualized educational services and therapeutic services such as physical, music and speech therapy. Callahan said once the center is up and running, he expects to employ a staff of 20 well-trained individuals. Acknowledging Farmer’s generous gifts to the center, Callahan declined to say specifically how much the center cost. The 20,000-square-foot center comes with more than a dozen classrooms as well as two apartments, which will be used to house clients from out of town.
The center also hopes to serve as a cutting-edge research facility and training site for those seeking to study autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder causing communication, socialization and behavioral withdrawals. One in 88 Americans are diagnosed with the disorder, and its cause and cure are unknown.
Behavior analysis associate professor Rick Smith said UNT’s involvement in studying autism dates back to the 1970s, with research, faculty work and assessments as an important focus.
Farmer said she discovered that working with individuals diagnosed with autism was her calling after she taught a student to say “I love you” to his mother.
“After she heard him say it for the first time it just brought tears to her eyes,” Farmer said.
For Farmer, autism research was no longer just a profession, but a passion. In 1995, she said she contacted Callahan, her former professor at UNT, with hopes that he would be on board with her idea to open a center in Denton serving individuals diagnosed with autism and their families.
She said she hopes that the center, which will be used by UNT’s College of Education as well as the speech and language department and psychology department, will serve as a beacon of multidisciplinary light in North Texas.
— Ashley Grant, Senior Staff Writer / North Texas Daily