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University of Houston - Clear Lake
Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities
News Release
Thursday, February 10, 2011

UHCL center receives grant from The Brown Foundation


HOUSTON — Children seeking assistance from University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities will get some much-needed play therapy because of equipment provided by an $81,344 grant from The Brown Foundation. The resulting “sensory playground” will give children with autism a chance to participate in playground “practice” sessions that will help them learn to interact with peers and become less anxious and withdrawn in a group setting.


“Currently, we have no outdoor facilities for our children and we would not have the ability to build a playground without this generous grant,” said UH-Clear Lake Professor of Psychology Dorothea Lerman. “We are so grateful for the generosity of The Brown Foundation in providing a much-needed resource for the children who receive service from the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.”


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate an average of one in 110 children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder, which is four to five times more likely to occur in boys than girls.


Other findings indicate that children with autism often have a poorly functioning vestibular system (how children respond to movement and therapy), which causes problems with balance, muscle tone and body coordination. Many outdoor activities help with successful motor integration by improving muscle strength and development and general coordination. In addition, many believe that playground therapy can help the children develop socially.


“Outdoor play, such as climbing, crawling, jumping and sliding on play structures, can help improve muscle strength development and general coordination,” added Lerman. “As important, though, playground therapy can help augment the social development of children with autism and other developmental disabilities.”


Items being chosen for the new space outside of the university’s Arbor Building where the center is located include slides, a ladder and crawling tunnel, an observation platform and a “crazy tea-cup” spinning toy. Other items include SofTILE® ground cover, a picnic table and a canopy, as well as a fence to keep the playground safe and controlled.


“The unstructured space and loud nature of a typical playground can be overwhelming for these children,” said Lerman. “As a result, they often do not experience the learning and social development benefits from outdoor play seen in their typically developing classmates. Playground ‘practice’ sessions can help children learn to interact with peers and become less anxious and withdrawn in a group setting.”


The Brown Foundation Inc. was founded in July 1951 by Herman and Margarett Root Brown and George R. and Alice Pratt Brown. Since its inception it has awarded more than $1.2 billion in grants through the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010. Of these funds, approximately 80 percent were awarded within the State of Texas with special emphasis on the City of Houston.


UH-Clear Lake’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities began offering services in March 2008. Lerman, a nationally recognized expert in autism and developmental disabilities, serves as the center’s director and is assisted by faculty and graduate students in the Applied Behavior Analysis, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Education programs.


For more information about UH-Clear Lake’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, visit the center’s website,, or e-mail


University of Houston-Clear Lake offers 40 undergraduate and 45 graduate degree programs, including a doctoral program, from its four schools, which include the School of Business, School of Education, School of Human Sciences and Humanities, and School of Science and Computer Engineering. For more information about the university, visit

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