Jere Lynn Burkhart honored for her contributions towards autism research
A supporter of Texas Tech University whose financial gifts helped establish the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research recently received an Alabama university's highest honor for helping establish a similar center there.
Faulkner University awarded Jere Lynn Burkhart an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree on Oct. 4 for her contributions to autism education and a new autism center at the university.
Faulkner, a Christian liberal arts university in Montgomery, Ala., announced plans for the center in 2017 after partnering with Burkhart and Texas Tech to help with best practices and the center's development.
The center is set to open in 2019 and will be the first of its kind in the region.
"It thrills me to no end," Burkhart said. "I thank God every day for the program at Texas Tech, and it means so much to me to now help Faulkner University in Alabama do the same, important work we're doing."
Burkhart became committed to advancing autism education for teachers and parents over 30 years ago after her grandson was diagnosed with autism. At the time, autism education and professional services were almost nonexistent.
"Jere Lynn Burkhart is a pioneer who led the trailblazing movement to speak for a segment of our nation who could not speak for themselves," Faulkner University President Mike Williams said.
About one in every 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Burkhart said she and her husband Jim became friends of Faulkner years ago after another of her grandsons enrolled there.
After Williams, who has a son with autism, became the university's president in 2015, he contacted Burkhart and Texas Tech to arrange a tour of the Burkhart Center. The visit blossomed into a partnership.
"The Burkhart Center serves hundreds of families, teachers and professionals from around the state today because of Jere Lynn Burkhart, and it is from her urging and support that we have expanded and grown to train others how to do so as well over the last several years," said Wes Dotson, director of the Burkhart Center.
"She has done the same for Faulkner University, both by facilitating our partnership with them and by giving vision to what they want to achieve by building a similar comprehensive autism center in an area with no equivalent facility yet in place."
The Burkhart Center was established on the Texas Tech campus in 2005 with the help of contributions from the Burkharts. It was originally housed in the College of Education before getting its own building in 2013.
The center provides support and services for individuals with ASD and their families. It also trains regular and special education teachers and conducts research to improve the quality of life of those affected by ASD.