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Need for Special Educators Qualified to Teach Students With ASD

National:  The need for special educators with preparation to teach students with Autism Spectrum Disorders has increased dramatically as numbers of students diagnosed with autism rise. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2001), there were 19,058 students with autism receiving services for 1993-94 school year. Five years later, in the 1998-99 school year, that number was 53,675.

Florida and Central Florida:  A longitudinal analysis of teacher vacancies by the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE, 2001) revealed that special education teacher vacancies rose from 327 to 458 between the 1997-98 and 2000-2001 school years, an increase of 40%. Relevant to this project is data demonstrating that over the 1995 through 2001 period, the greatest percentage increase in vacancies (900%) occurred in the autistic category. In addition to the high numbers of vacancies, there is also concern with the number of Florida special education teachers who are employed out-of-field. Shortages of fully certified teachers were reported in nearly every special education category for the year 2000-01 with a total of 3,025 special education teachers employed out-of-field. Shortages were particularly acute in Central Florida, the area directly served by this university, where the high percentage of out-of-field teachers serving students with autism is of particular concern. Table 1 demonstrates that when compared to other disability categories, Autism (26.9%) ranks second only to EH/SED (32.9%) in the percentage of teachers without appropriate certification (FLDOE, 2001).

Table 1 (Estimated Number of Out of Field Teachers in 2000-01)

Field            % of Out of Field (Florida)     % of Out of Field (Central Florida)

Autism         8.3      26.9

MH      11.0      21.9

SLD          9.2          9.4

EH/SED     18.2      32.9

Need To Address Dramatic Increases in the Number of Students Identified With ASD:

Increases in the number of students diagnosed with ASD have been found worldwide (Fombonne, 1999; Gillberg, 1991; Webb, Lobo, Hervas, Scourfield, & Fraser, 1997). The California Department of Developmental Services (March, 1999) reported a 273% increase in Autism and a 2000% increase in other Pervasive Developmental Disorders (including Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, Rett's Disorder and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder) (Baker, 2002). Despite concerns with the growing numbers of students with ASD, information on current national prevalence is limited. Furthermore, it is difficult to make comparisons given the wide variability in criteria and targeted populations in the studies that have been done (Bertrand, Boyle, Yeargin-Allsopp, Decoufle, Mars, & Bove, 2001). A 1998 study of prevalence of ASD in children 3 to 10 years of age, conducted in Brick Township, New Jersey, reported 6.7 cases per 1000 children. Dramatic increases in prevalence

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