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A survey of personnel preparation practices in autism spectrum disorders

by Barnhill, G.P., Polloway, E.A., Sumutka, B.M.

Barnhill, G., Polloway, E. & Sumutka, B. (2011). A survey of personnel preparation practices in autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 26(2), 75-86.

Objective: The purpose of this article is to investigate and provide recommendations for education and training for special education staff who work with students with Autism.  It is well noted that the prevalence rate of Autism is growing exponentially and these students now represent the fastest growing group of students served through special education.    The authors stated numerous additional reasons for the need of teachers to be adequately trained to work with students with ASD “across a wide variety of services delivery systems” and with a range of ages and levels of disability.  Several authors were referenced in addition to the National Research Council relative to identified elements of effective education programming for children with autism.  And finally it is emphasized that one of the procedural violations pursued against school districts relative to this group of students is lack of qualified personnel.  The authors listed three main objectives to their research:  Determine the prevalence of Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) that offer specific coursework in ASD, analyze the “nature of the autism-specific coursework and programs currently offered”, and consider the content included in ASD coursework and the depth of which they are addressed. 

Method:  A survey was developed and items were based on a literature review.  There were 11 items total, including name of institution, names of courses, degree or certification offered, stand-alone or add on recognition, years of program existence, etc.  They obtained names of IHE’s from the National Center for Special Education- Personnel Center.    One hundred and eighty seven surveys were distributed with a response rate of 47%.   

Results:  Less than half of the IHE’s did not offer ASD specific coursework.  About half of the respondents stated that their state had not developed a list of required ASD competencies.  Thirty six of the schools that offered ASD coursework also offered a field experience or practicum.  These varied widely in the amount of hours.  States were listed according to their IHE’s contacted, responded, ASD courses, and percentages of those with courses.  Also a table listed characteristics of IHE’s offering ASD-specific coursework (i.e. graduate or undergrad, length of time ASD coursework existence, type of program, etc.  The article also reviews course topics and percentages of IHE’s that offer them. 

Conclusion:  The authors reiterate the importance of establishing ASD specific coursework and programs in IHE’s.  It was noted that there has been an increase in the development and implementation of personnel preparation, but there is a great variance in the nature of these programs.  They observed that programs that have been in existence longer typically have greater requirements in field experience and duration of such.  The inconsistent existence of statewide competencies for ASD provides “another  basis for a broad range of training foci”.     They also identified several commonly included emphases within the coursework, but beyond those, there is great variability in topics.  A few other conclusions were listed including the majority of programs included field experience which highlights the importance of direct work with students with ASD because of their unique characteristics and supports.