Qualified teachers and professionals in the Erie region will soon have the option to add an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) endorsement to their resumes — a credential they can earn in less than a year.
Mercyhurst University is the first program in northwestern Pennsylvania approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to offer a three-course, 12-credit ASD endorsement program.
With autism diagnoses on the rise, the education department at Mercyhurst— long recognized as a regional leader in special education and behavioral studies — understood the importance and value of providing quality training that would graduate students in a timely, efficient manner, said Leanne Roberts, Ph.D., chair of the education department.
“In 2012, the CDC estimated that one in 88 children had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder,” said Roberts, who added that many teachers, therapists and administrators are unaware that they can receive specialized training.
For an educational professional who currently holds a Pennsylvania Department of Education Level I or II certificate in teaching, related therapies or in a supervisory capacity, an ASD endorsement would help him or her face the continued challenges of meeting the unique needs of special needs students.
Specifically, it would provide professionals with the tools they need to develop effective educational and behavioral change programs, including evidence-based practices and experiences that students with special needs and their families deserve, explained Thomas Kitchen, director of certification programs in applied behavior analysis.
“Program faculty have extensive real-world experience engaging with students with autism, including working as special education teachers, autism and behavioral researchers, authors, behavior analysts, program supervisors and agency administrators,” said Kitchen. “Mercyhurst’s Autism Endorsement Program will provide participating professionals with the skills and expertise that will allow them to meet autism-related instructional and behavioral challenges head-on.”
As experts in the fields of special education and applied behavior analysis, Mercyhurst faculty hope that by offering an ASD endorsement and by teaching scientifically validated techniques they can help promote effective autism support and outreach.
“The challenges that families, teachers and community members face when caring for an individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder can often seem insurmountable,” said Jonathan Ivy, Ph.D., director of the master’s program in applied behavior analysis. “That being said, the science of teaching and behavioral programming has reached a critical point in which it is possible to improve many of the difficulties associated with the disorder.”
With 19 other colleges and universities in Pennsylvania offering an ASD endorsement, educational professionals who enroll at Mercyhurst have an advantage. While many other programs require four courses to complete the curriculum, Mercyhurst’s program requires only three. Sequential courses will be offered in the evenings during the university’s J-Term, spring and fall semesters.
For additional information about the ASD endorsement, contact Thomas Kitchen at 824-2054.
PHOTO: Jonathan Ivy, Ph.D., guides graduate student Charlene Lichtinger '13 during a student-teacher exercise in the Mercyhurst-supported autism support classroom.