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ASU offers autism graduate certificate

August 27, 2007

To fill the need for more specialized information about autism spectrum disorders (ASD), the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education’s Division of Curriculum and Instruction has developed a program that prepares participants with the latest information and practical techniques to better prepare and serve those with autism. The 15-graduate-credit-hour program, which debuts this semester as the “Autism Spectrum Disorders Graduate Certificate,” uses in-class and online sessions to prepare students for the challenges of working with ASD.

Autism affects an estimated 1 out of 150 children in the United States. A steady rise in the number of individuals affected by ASD has created a public demand for professionals who are aware of the issues and needs facing these special individuals, as well as their families and service providers.

The ASD graduate certificate consists of four classes and a practicum. The practicum provides an opportunity to use new knowledge and skills in a real work setting consistent with the student’s interests and abilities.

The program hopes to enroll students from a variety of disciplines including social work, nursing, psychology, and counseling, in addition to parents and caretakers of those with ASD.

The history of offering such a certificate began in 2006 with a tri-university partnership between ASU, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona that offered classes about ASD online. Initially, the tri-university program was restricted to only accepting teachers who would agree to teach in the State of Arizona for at least two years. When the introductory course was first offered, more than 50 people signed up, but just five students were allowed to enroll from each university.

“Based upon this demand, we could clearly see there was a huge interest for more information about autism spectrum disorders, and the demand reached far beyond just teachers, but anyone who worked with or was affected by an individual with ASD,” says Kathleen McCoy, an associate professor in the Division of Curriculum and Instruction and the faculty coordinator for the ASD graduate certificate.

“Offering such a program is fairly new and uncharted territory, but the need for an ASD graduate certificate program has been around for a long time,” McCoy says. “We are really ahead of the curve in offering a graduate certificate that is open to other disciplines beyond teaching. The program is so flexible that students can really tailor the program to best fit their needs.

“The more people who are educated in this area, the better we will be able to serve the children and adults with ASD who are in the schools. It’s important that those in general education realize that most individuals with ASD are not placed in special education, but rather are integrated in regular education classes. So this certificate is especially relevant for those teachers as well.”

McCoy hopes that, by better educating general educators, they will be better trained to identify the signs of autism.

“All too often, inappropriate behavior in a classroom is identified as just that, but in reality it is a student with autism,” McCoy says. “It’s the children and adolescents who seem a little off or atypical who suffer as a result of being misunderstood and have a difficult time in school.

“My long-term goal for this program is that we better educate the public so that they understand the complexity of autism. Children with autism are all different and not clones … they’re individuals, and we need to deal with how they process information on an individual basis, instead of lumping them all together and treating them the same.”

For more information, visit the Web site or contact the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education at (480) 965-6502.

Paula Miller
Mary Lou Fulton College of Education