Opinion
Special Education Opinion

Where Are the Autism Teaching Competencies?

By Emaley McCulloch & Janet Martin — September 20, 2011 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

States are no strangers to classroom standards. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002, the federal government required states to create teacher standards and place highly qualified teachers in every classroom.

Nearly a decade later, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers spearheaded the initiative to create common-core standards to “allow teachers to be better equipped to know exactly what they need to help students learn and establish individualized benchmarks for them.” Today, all but four states have adopted the common standards to improve math and English/language arts skills.

We like both initiatives. Setting the bar high is a good thing for all involved. We are, however, disappointed to see so few standards set for teaching competencies for those working in special education classrooms, and, more specifically, for those teaching children on the autism spectrum. In 2010, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that an average of one in 110 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder. According to the group Autism Speaks, government figures also estimate autism diagnoses are increasing 10 percent to 17 percent annually.

Even with these alarming numbers, only a handful of states have adopted autism competencies that provide training for educators. We believe the need for standardized competencies is urgent.

Here’s why:

There is agreement among experts in the field of autism that the sooner a student gets appropriate treatment, the more likely it is he or she will be able to mainstream into a typical classroom. This option could also mean cost savings for districts by placing more students in a typical classroom sooner. The Special Education Expenditure Project, conducted for the U.S. Department of Education in 2003, reported that students with disabilities can have expenditures as high as $20,095 per year—3.1 times higher than a regular education student. The key phrase here is that the student receives “appropriate treatment.”

Evidence-based autism interventions, also known as applied behavior analysis, build the behavior and social foundation needed to learn academics and pass state-mandated standardized tests. Yes, children with disabilities must participate in state tests as outlined within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the law currently known as No Child Left Behind. Until these children can control problem behavior and build functional language, they will not be able to learn basic math, science, or language arts.

Unfortunately, there is a severe shortage of qualified teachers to support students on the autism spectrum.

Only a handful of states have adopted autism competencies that provide training for educators. We believe the need for standardized competencies is urgent."

In the “National Assessment of IDEA Overview,” published in July by the Institute of Education Sciences, 46 percent of school districts reported that they could not find qualified special education teachers to work with students with autism. Fifty-four percent of districts also reported difficulty in finding qualified special education teachers to teach children with severe behavioral disorders—a common characteristic of autism.

How can states implement autism competencies for teachers?

The first step is to identify evidence-based autism-teaching procedures. The National Autism Center is a good starting point. It published the National Standards Project in 2010. Within this document, the center outlines 11 established autism interventions, including naturalistic teaching, modeling, pivotal response treatment, and behavior management—all methods of applied behavior analysis.

The second step is to properly train teachers and support staff to implement these autism interventions with fidelity. According to the National Assessment of IDEA, districts continue to utilize university coursework, alternative certification, and professional development to increase the number of qualified special education teachers. These are positive steps, but we feel they alone are not adequate.

Two states—Virginia and California—have created successful autism teacher competencies and training. Districts and schools that are interested in pursuing state autism competencies should look no further for ideas.

Virginia, which developed state competencies in partnership with the Virginia Autism Council, also created the Autism State-Directed Project, a voluntary measure to ensure teachers across the state received proper training in these evidence-based autism teaching strategies.

California also deserves mention. Not only is the state requiring all new teachers to take courses during college in evidenced-based autism teaching strategies, it also is requiring more than 25,000 veteran special education teachers to obtain autism training through local universities. If these courses were not completed by this past July, the educators would not be allowed to teach children with autism.

Our own organization, Autism Training Solutions, trained more than 1,000 educators in 20 states last year in applied behavior analysis, and conducted surveys with special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff in California, Florida, Hawaii, Utah, and Virginia. Overall, we found that these educators are seeking help. Autism-related training is not another hindrance in their already all-too-busy day. A survey conducted with educators in Virginia found that almost 90 percent of teachers recommended that their schools continue to utilize autism training.

Autism is not going away. Let’s work together to create autism teacher competencies and train teachers to apply these strategies inside the special education classroom. Nothing is going to change if we accept the status quo.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the September 21, 2011 edition of Education Week as Where Are the Autism Teaching Competencies?

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Can AI Help With Special Ed.? There's Promise—and Reason to Be Cautious
Some special education professionals are experimenting with the technology.
3 min read
Photo collage of woman using tablet computer and AI icon.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Special Education Many Students Can Get Special Ed. Until Age 22. What Districts Should Do
School districts' responsibilities under federal special education law aren't always clear-cut.
4 min read
Instructor working with adult special needs student.
iStock
Special Education How a Mindset Shift Can Help Solve Special Education Misidentification
Many educators face the problem of misidentification of special education students. Here are strategies educators are using to fix it.
3 min read
Timothy Allison, a collaborative special education teacher in Birmingham, Ala., works with a student at Sun Valley Elementary School on Sept. 8, 2022.
Timothy Allison, a collaborative special education teacher in Birmingham, Ala., works with a student at Sun Valley Elementary School on Sept. 8, 2022.
Jay Reeves/AP
Special Education Impact of Missed Special Ed. Evaluations Could Echo for Years
The onset of COVID-19 slowed special education identification. Four years later, a new study hints at the massive scale of the impact.
6 min read
Blank puzzle pieces in a bunch with a person icon tile standing alone to the side.
Liz Yap/Education Week with iStock/Getty