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Paula Marie Kluth ’92, PhD’98

An expert in the field of autism education, Paula Kluth stands at the forefront of the Inclusive Schooling movement, which promotes supporting children regardless of disability in regular schools.

March 01, 2008

2008 Forward under 40 Award Honoree

UW Major: Special Education
Age: 37 | Oak Park, Illinois
Education Consultant and Researcher

An expert in the field of autism education, Paula Kluth stands at the forefront of the Inclusive Schooling movement, which promotes supporting children regardless of disability in regular schools.

A first-generation college student, Kluth came to the UW at the insistence of her sister, who lured her to Madison with Gritty burgers. During her sophomore year, Kluth took a course with Professor Lou Brown, a pioneer in inclusive schooling, who encouraged his students not only to teach but to change the world for people with disabilities.

After earning her bachelors degree, Kluth began her career as a special education teacher in the Chicago area, but she soon found she could reach more children by furthering her study of education policy. After earning a masters degree at Harvard, she returned to the UW for doctoral studies under Brown.

Following a brief stint on the faculty at Syracuse University, Kluth became an independent consultant, providing technical assistance to schools and speaking to such organizations as the Autism Society of America, the Autism National Committee, and the National Down Syndrome Congress. Shes the author of seven books, including You're Going to Love This Kid!: Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom and A Land We Can Share: Teaching Literacy to Students with Autism. Her first documentary film, We Thought You Would Never Ask, is currently in production.

In her own words

I am so very honored to be considered for this award and I am so humbled to be nominated by my sister, another very successful, Wisconsin-loving Badger.

It is so appropriate to be nominated by Victoria as she really did force me to attend UW and I am forever grateful. I thought that I should go to a small college focused on teaching but my sister pointed out that college isn't just about schooling but about experiences, as well. She then dragged me down from Green Bay (our hometown) to Madison for a visit that included a football game, a big house party, a campus tour, and a visit to the Nitty Gritty. I was hooked! The Nitty Gritty Burger Basket alone would have done it but the rest of it was just as incredible.

When I think about what I got from the University of Wisconsin it seems more appropriate to consider what pieces of my career, family life, and personal interests were not influenced by my college experience.

My career certainly would not have been close to the one I have now without my UW experience. As an undergraduate, I studied under Dr. Lou Brown, a man known around the country and around the world as a pioneer in my field of inclusive schooling. The message he sent me from my sophomore year on was, I expect you not only to be a teacher but to change the world. He made it clear that we should continue our education after becoming teachers (reminding us often about the option of a PhD) and that we needed to be leaders and create change. Like many in Dr. Browns program, I was a first-generation college student and never dreamed of attending graduate school. A few years later when I was accepted to Harvard to get my Ed.M., he was somewhat supportive but asked more than a few times if I didn't want to come to Madison to do my graduate work there. When it was clear that I was going to Boston for a year, he gave his blessing but reminded me to come back to Madison for the PhD.

While Harvard was a great experience and I did learn plenty about systems change, education policy, curriculum, and instruction, in 1994, inclusive schooling and disability did not seem to be on the radar of most of my professors there. There were no classes offered on inclusive education and very few related to disability. I valued that experience but knew that returning to Madison was my best chance for becoming a leader in my chosen field of study. I returned to UW to work with three of the most respected names in my fields of autism and inclusive schooling: Dr. Lou Brown, Dr. Anne Donnellan, and Dr. Alice Udvari-Solner. To me, this was the dream team of advisors and to this day, I am often pulled aside after a presentation and asked, "Are you one of Lou's?"

My personal life has been similarly affected by my experiences as a Badger. In my house, fall Saturdays would not be complete without our two young daughters struggling for control of our Bucky doll (the one that sings On Wisconsin). They have already learned (ages 1 and 3) to make Bucky sing when Wisconsin scores a touchdown. And I married a boy I met on the corner of State Street and Gilman and even threatened to name our son Gilman Bucky. Since we had two daughters, I never had to test my husbands commitment to UW.

Finally, my life in general has been richer due to my education. My sister was right education is more than the books you read or the classes you take. I attended protests, I played softball on a frozen lake, I danced the polka with strangers during the 5th quarter, I raced in a bed down Langdon Street, I tipped my canoe over in Lake Mendota, I studied for exams on the Union Terrace while sipping a beer and eating a brat, I pledged a sorority, I yelled sieve! at hockey games, I ran the Crazy Legs race, I hugged Bucky at Homecoming, and without paying a dime, I saw many phenomenal individuals preach, speak, and recite at rallies, readings, and lectures across campus (including Jesse Jackson, Audre Lorde, Elaine Brown, Jonathan Kozol, and the Dalai Lama).

When I think about it, it really is impossible to know everything the University of Wisconsin has given me. This award would be a great honor and would be yet another gift from my beloved alma mater. But truly you had me at the Nitty Gritty Burger Basket.

And thank you so very much for considering me for the Forward Under Forty award.

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