By: Mike McCormick

Spartanburg County is home to the first specialized training program for autism spectrum disorder in South Carolina.

The 35 Spartanburg County school district educators who completed the program recently received their certificates.

“It was very intense,” said participant Kylie McKinney. “Until you have that intensive intervention and training, you’re kind of lost.”

Elena Ghionis, the lead autism specialist for Spartanburg County School District 7, designed the program. She teaches it at Converse College.

“It’s kind of the history-making moment in our state,” Ghionis told WYFF News 4’s Mike McCormick. “I truly believe this is the beginning of something bigger.”

Ghionis said while in college, educators only get one chapter, maybe two, devoted to autism. She created the new program to give teachers, speech therapists and counselors the tools they need.

There are five courses in the program. They deal with the foundations of autism, speech and communication development, adaptations and inclusion for students who have autism, methods of instruction and behavioral management.

“Moving forward, it needs to be something we all wrap our arms around and just continue to embrace and grow so it can benefit students, teachers, families and anyone else involved in a child’s life,” McKinney said.

The courses help educators understand how to work with students who have autism and they help the educators teach parents how to work with their children when they’re not in school.

“I think a lot of our parents are worried and scared about what the future is going to look like for their child,” McKinney said. “This could be a life-changing opportunity for the parents.”

Another group will go through the program at Converse College starting in the fall.

“It is incredible to be a part of a movement that could be monumental,” McKinney said.

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