The Growing Demand for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialization in Special Education

A prevalent disability diagnosed in today's children, the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 1 out of every 68 children have Autism Spectrum Disorder. As public school systems create classroom environments specially designed to target the growing needs of these students, there is a demand for autism specialization among special education teachers. Higher educational institutions have answered this call by providing graduate certificates that equip educators with the skills to evaluate and effectively teach the wide range of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects the brain's social and behavioral development, in addition to communication abilities. Originally referred to simply as "autism," the terminology was changed as children were found to have differing levels of severity. Symptoms of ASD are unique to each individual, and four general levels include: autistic disorder, pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), childhood disintegrative disorder, in addition to the higher functioning Asperger syndrome. To date, there is no known cure and no definite cause, though research is ongoing. ASD crosses all ethnicities and socioeconomic groups, though it is more predominant among boys.
Healthcare professionals do not have a single medical test, such as a blood test, to confirm the disorder. Individuals do not appear physically different, adding to the increased difficulty in diagnosing ASD. Healthcare professionals begin screening toddlers for developmental delays, and follow-up identified developmental delays with a more comprehensive evaluation of behavioral and social capabilities. While a more positive diagnosis can be made at about the age of two, some children, especially those with Asperger syndrome, are not actually diagnosed with a form of ASD until they begin school. ASD does not necessarily directly affect intellectual skills, although the inability to effectively communicate most often hinders learning and social skills, which are detected in the school setting.
With an increased core group of students being identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder, school systems are developing teaching strategies to best aid these students. This often requires that students attend school at a central location, in order to give access to educators with specialized credentials in ASD, as well as therapists and other healthcare professionals. Educators with specialized knowledge have completed curriculums in assessing Autism Spectrum Disorder, addressing communication and language barriers, in addition to classroom management strategies.
Educators desiring to work with ASD students may benefit most from a graduate certificate. Graduate certificates take less time to complete than a master's program, and provide specialization credentials often required in the ASD classroom environment. Most often, graduate certificates require the completion of about 9 to 12 credit hours, or three or four courses. Once complete, educators can continue to update their knowledge and teaching strategies, through conferences and added training sessions. More often than not, credits of graduate certificates can later be applied to a master's degree within the same college's division - an added plus for students on the fence about committing to a master's program.

By Rita Rowe


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