Project ASD, Preparing Teachers to Work With Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders, is a Low Incidence Personnel Preparation Grant, CFDA 84.325A, funded by the United States Department of Education through the Office of Special Education Programs for January, 2004- January, 2009. This federal project is designed to increase the number, qualifications, and diversity of special education teachers to serve the increasing numbers of students identified with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Project ASD creates a new emphasis within the University of Central Florida Master’s Program in Exceptional Student Education with specific focus on teacher knowledge, skills, and competencies for working with students with ASD. The four courses proposed for the new certificate program in autism can be incorporated into a Master’s program of study or taken as an add-on to an undergraduate or graduate education degree. It is intended that the four courses be applied toward State Endorsement in Autism Administrative Rule 6A-4.01796.
The proposed innovative program leading to a Certificate in Autism will address identified gaps in services by implementing three primary goals:
To increase the qualifications of certified special education teachers by creating a new emphasis within the Exceptional Education Master’s program with specific focus on competencies in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD);
To increase the number of fully qualified special education teachers with specific focus on personnel from underrepresented groups including those with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and individuals with disabilities: and
To collaborate with families, schools, and agencies to link research to practice via field-based experiences.
Qualifications of special educators will be increased by incorporating requirements for state endorsement in Autism into three new courses and one existing course in the Exceptional Education Master’s program. Partnerships with local agencies and school districts will assist in the development of strong field-based components linking research to practice.
The issues in special education teacher preparation are both quantitative and qualitative (Simpson & Myles, 1998). Widespread national concern with the recruitment, preparation, and retention of qualified special education teachers is reaching crisis proportions. The preparation of these teachers to work with increasing numbers of students with ASD is of particular concern. According to the National Research Council (2001), “Personnel preparation remains one of the weakest elements of effective programming for children with autism spectrum disorders and their families.”