Thompson gets ‘English’ lesson overseas

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Billie Thompson, Covington County Schools’ special education coordinator, was one of 15 educators from around the world chosen to attend the Oxford Round Table in England earlier this month.

She, along with the other participants from the U.S., England and China, were invited to discuss autism’s causes and potential cures.

CCS superintendent Sharon Dye was invited to attend in 2007.

“The purpose of the Oxford Round Table, which is a non-profit educational organization, is to promote human advancement and understanding through the improvement of education,” Thompson said. “It was very humbling to be included and very educational to everyone who participated.”

The Round Table meets periodically, and each session is comprised of a small select group of leaders from both the public and private sectors of several countries.

Registration to the Oxford Round Table is by invitation only. Invitations are sent to selected persons throughout the country. These individuals are identified through several screening processes: nominations of previous participants in the Round Table, from recommendations to the Round Table directors and from recognized presentations and awards of state and national organizations.

Past membership has included governors from the U.S., members of the British Parliament, CEOs of international corporations, educational administrators, attorneys and academics from major universities.

Discussions during this session centered around autism, Thompson said.

“Dr. Anthony Bailey, who is the leading researcher at Oxford University on magnetic imaging of the brain, was one of the speakers,” she said. “It was amazing to watch his research unfold as the brains of children with autism were imaged using a machine more powerful than an MRI. You can see the definite differences in the areas of the brain between child with autism and those who don’t and they way each of them process information.”

Thompson said the research is cutting edge and it shows how the brain of an autistic child “doesn’t respond the way we want them to.”

“The next step is once that evidence is there, we just have to determine what exactly what it means,” she said. “Once that happens, the result is going to be amazing.”

Thompson was also asked to “facilitate” two of the discussions held among the participants.

“A lot of the discussion centered around educating children — all children, not just autistic children,” she said. “I was thrilled to hear that we in Covington County are right there alongside everyone else in the way we educate our children — the same as those in California, Arkansas, Texas and others. I also found out we’re ahead of the curve when it comes to other places.”

Amazingly, Thompson said she traveled halfway across the world only to meet a special education professor from Troy University-Dothan who taught many of the special education professionals employed by the CCS.

“The amount of information that I learned and was able to bring back to Covington County is exceptional,” she said. “I’m just so lucky to have been granted detached leave to make this education trip and bring back those resources. I’m thankful for my family for providing this opportunity to me and to the school system for their foresight to recognize the benefits to be gained for the system.”