With the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) on the rise, the U.S. has greater need for teachers trained to work with this very special population. The CDC estimated that by 2010, one in 68 children in the United States had been diagnosed with some form of ASD. 10 years prior, the estimate was one in 150 children.
Most children who’ve been diagnosed with ASD will attend the same schools and work alongside their non-ASD peers. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that only 7.7 percent of children with autism attend specialized schools for students with disabilities, while 91 percent spend all or part of their school days within general classrooms of what the NCES classifies as “regular” schools. Because of this inclusion, teachers who are working on special education degrees might consider an autism endorsement, which can be completed in conjunction with their online degree program.
What is an Autism Endorsement?
The autism endorsement program at Saint Joseph’s University online, which can be combined with Master of Science in Special Education (SPED), covers:
- Introduction to ASD: Overview of Causality, Diagnosis, and Advocacy
- Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Socialization Strategies for Children with Autism
- Evidenced-Based Practices: Assessment, Interventions, and Instructional Methodologies
- Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis: Behavior Management Approaches
These 12 credit hours of advanced, elective, special-education courses prepare teachers to help recognize symptoms, accurately diagnose children, and recommend education, communication, and socialization strategies. Most importantly, the endorsement program helps educators understand the different ways children with special needs learn.
Pennsylvania does not require teachers to become Certified Autism Specialists in order to work with children who have been diagnosed with ASD; however, the endorsement provides a competitive edge for teachers in the job market. The endorsement tells prospective employers that you are professionally, emotionally, and strategically ready to take on a diverse classroom that includes children with special needs.
Benefits of a Master’s in SPED in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is among the top 5 states offering employment opportunities for special education teachers and a top 10 state for special education teacher salaries, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ 2014 figures. Among the benefits of an autism endorsement are:
- Prepares teachers to work with children with special needs.
- Enables them to help diagnose children with autism.
- Offers higher earnings potential beyond general education teachers (according to BLS.gov).
- Positions teachers to become Certified Autism Specialists, a national endorsement from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).
- Rewarding in ways impossible to quantify, such as helping children affected by autism learn to communicate, socialize, and live happy lives.
Autism Endorsement at Saint Joseph’s University
An education endorsement is designed to improve teachers’ skills when they work in complex classroom settings. The MS in Special Education with autism endorsement prepares teachers to:
- Understand the characteristics and causes of ASD.
- Assess students and plan and evaluate instruction methods based on where they have been diagnosed on the spectrum of autism.
- Create development level-appropriate classrooms to accommodate ASD students without disrupting teaching and learning for other students.
- Effectively collaborate with other educators, service providers, parents, and family members.
One-third of Pennsylvania’s 93 state-approved universities offer autism endorsements for teachers, including Saint Joseph University according to the state’s Department of Education. Saint Joseph’s University’s online Autism Endorsement Track provides training to teachers who want to work with children who’ve been diagnosed with ASD and their families. The program can be completed online within two years.