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College of Teacher Ed unveils online autism-focused M.Ed.

June 29, 2009

The College of Teacher Education and Leadership at Arizona State University has announced a new master’s degree – M.Ed. in Special Education Consultation and Collaboration: Autism Emphasis – that will be offered online as part of ASU Online and Extended Education programming.

The program, the first of its kind in Arizona, is designed to fit the needs of many different types of service providers for individuals with autism.  While the advanced degree will appeal to teachers, its content is expected to attract social workers, doctors, music therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, behavioral therapists and more.

“For the first time, ASU is offering a high-quality online M.Ed. in special education with an emphasis on autism,” says Kathleen McCoy, degree program coordinator.  “This is an important program because, as the numbers of children within the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) continue to rise, the state and the nation are unable to meet their academic and social needs.”

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person’s lifetime and is part of a group of disorders known as ASD.  According to Autism Speaks, the country’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, one in 150 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called autism a national public health crisis.

The time is right for such a degree, says McCoy.

“We have a serious teacher shortage in all areas of special education,” she says, adding, “but one of the most pronounced is in the area of autism.  This program, given the nature of the organization of courses, can provide a high-quality degree for adult learners who wish to finish their program more quickly than in a traditional semester format.”

The online degree features 33 hours of coursework, including ten classes and a practicum.  Courses are offered every 10 weeks.  Included are such classes as Foundations of Autism Spectrum Disorders, Characteristics of Children with Behavioral Disorders, Characteristics/Diagnosis of Learning Disabilities, and Reading and Communication Strategies for Individuals with Autism.  Several of the courses also can lead to Board Certified Behavior Analysis certification, as well as an ASU ASD certificate.

“The state needs highly qualified personnel to work with the population found under the ASD,” says McCoy.  “We, at ASU, are meeting the needs of our community, state and nation by preparing teachers and other service providers a means to understand and meet the needs of individuals with autism.”

McCoy also notes the online element is important to the degree’s overall success.

“Adult learners need to be able to learn at times when they are refreshed and unstressed,” she says.  “They rarely have time to sit in a scheduled class that requires them to attend three hours a week after they have put in a full day’s work.

“Another beneficial aspect of the online class is the community that the learners create among each other.  Students get to know each other in a more intimate way because, through the classes, they may interact with every member several times during the week rather than just once a week.”

Marc Van Horne, director of distance learning technology for ASU, agrees with McCoy’s take on the online experience.

“I often talk about the ‘university experience,’” he says.  “It’s about interaction with faculty and peers.  This is not correspondence study; this is a rich, engaging educational experience with university faculty and other ASU students.”

The online M.Ed. may be the first of others to come from the College of Teacher Education and Leadership, says dean Mari Koerner.

“We believe very strongly in the importance of meeting the needs of the community,” she says.  “We are sensitive to always look for ways to improve our programs and offerings so that teachers can continue to learn in their professional lives as well as when they enter teaching.

“There are many opportunities to explore new offerings that address the needs of our community.”

For registration and program information, contact Rose Welsh at 602-543-3634 or via email at  Scholarship information is available from Laura Valadez at 602-543-3634 or  CTEL scholarship info is available at

ASU’s Online and Extended Education is the fifth campus of ASU.  Currently, ASU Online offers 12 undergraduate and 21 graduate degree programs in disciplines such as business, engineering, education, nursing and the humanities.  The degree programs delivered online hold the same accreditation as the university’s traditional face-to-face programs.  For more information, go to