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Leet's Watson Institute offers high-tech help

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Consultants at Watson Institute in Leet Township have found a way to share their knowledge with others around the world, CEO Ray White said.

The institute specializing in education for special needs children — primarily those on the autism spectrum — created an online application to complement its services to teachers, trainers and caregivers.

Titled “Watson LIFE Resources,” the website can be accessed at WatsonLifeResources.org by anyone. LIFE in the title stands for Learning and Information for Families and Educators.

White said 14 institute consultants, each with 20 or more years of experience, put together information gathered over the course of 15 years of work with special education professionals in about 45 schools in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New Jersey.

Each of the 150 common questions and recommended answers or strategies posted on the site is identified as an “established” or an “emerging” treatment, based on the National Standards Report of the National Autism Center.

Answers provide step-by-step instructions, some including 30- to 40-second videos to watch, worksheets to download or links to other websites.

Users can type in questions or browse by category, such as academics or behavior.

Questions can be posted for consultants to answer, and that information will be used to update the site.

“I was looking to see what answers would come up if I asked certain questions that a new parent would ask,” said site user Christine Pavlik Buffington of Pittsburgh's Elliott neighborhood.

“I found the answers to be spot on. ‘What is autism?' ‘What is wraparound?' ‘What is MA (medical assistance) and how do I apply for it?'”

Pavlik is a regional inclusion consultant for Include Me from the Start, in Wilkes-Barre, an initiative of The Arc of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, and she has two sons, Blake, 14, and Devin, 12, on the autism spectrum who periodically are evaluated at Watson.

“I love the site,” she said. “It is about time that someone does this. The quality and ease of it is amazing.”

Answers on the site not only can be applied to children with special needs, but to any child with a behavioral problem, White said.

Questions and answers focus not only on problems at school but in the car, in the grocery store, at home or at a restaurant.

Since the site debuted in July, more than 1,500 people, many from other countries and across the United States have visited it.

There are more than 70 subscribers. There is no cost to subscribe, but users must do so to ask questions, get answers, comment on other users' questions and rate consultants' answers.

“We want feedback on the site to see how the strategies are working and if people tweaked the strategies, and how that worked,” said Shari Bruce, Watson public relations specialist. “This is one way that Watson can help parents and educators help children at no cost to them.”

People who attended the Autism Society's national conference in Pittsburgh in July previewed the site. Bruce said the effort got “great positive feedback” via survey responses.

White said the website was developed over about three years, at a cost of $561,000. PNC Foundation and the Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust provided $318,000 of the total.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer forTrib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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