With autism on the rise, teachers find support through continuing education
Picture this: It’s the first day of school for 23 third-graders. Eagerly, they settle into their seats with their new backpacks and fresh school supplies. But not the boy still sitting outside, immersed in his imaginary world of action figures. He’s that one out of every 54 boys in the U.S. who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. And he’s going to make his teacher’s life very interesting this year as she explores ways to reach — and effectively teach — him.
With new research from the Centers for Disease Control showing a 23 percent increase in children with ASD, it seems more likely than ever that teachers will find an autistic student (or two) in their classrooms. To address this trend, University of Phoenix now offers a collection of continuing teacher education courses focused on teaching children with autism.
These courses are not just for special education teachers, notes Marla Kelsey, associate provost for education programs. “Inclusion of special needs students into the regular classroom is still a fairly new practice, and many teachers are not adequately prepared,” she says. “Teachers at every experience level, as well as their special education colleagues, need to constantly sharpen their skills to meet the needs of today’s diverse classroom.”
The idea behind the collection of courses, says College Extension Dean Dallas Harris, is to provide a “toolkit of ideas” that teachers can select, customize and use in their own classrooms to address the broad range of mannerisms and disabilities that autism encompasses.
“In our courses, we introduce the concept, then ask each teacher to research and choose the option that’s best for their own, specific classroom,” Harris explains. “Take communication skills, for instance. Many children with autism are likely to process information visually, rather than through speaking and listening. So, a range of augmentative communication systems, such as low-tech picture flashcards or high-tech computer programs, would become part of a teacher’s toolkit.”
Kelsey, a former special education teacher who was instrumental in developing the University’s autism courses, adds, “Our goal is to help familiarize teachers with the wide range of behaviors and learning challenges that ASD presents, and empower them with information, skills and even the legal and ethical issues so that they can do what’s best for the child.”