Slippery Rock’s special education graduate program recently became an approved provider for a special autism endorsement by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
The university has offered a Master’s degree in special education with a focus in autism since the spring semester, and the autism endorsement is new for graduate students this fall.
Dr. Robert Isherwood, associate professor of special education and graduate coordinator, said that once SRU’s curriculum committee approves the endorsement, it will be available to any teaching professional.
“With more and more [autism] inclusion happening in general education classrooms, the endorsement will make any teacher a much more attractive candidate,” Isherwood said.
According to Isherwood, students have to be accepted into graduate level program to participate in the endorsement classes.
“We already have 20 new students enrolled in the Master’s program, and we believe it’s really going to take off,” Isherwood said. “Tons of [undergraduate] students come back for the online program.”
Professionals that don’t have their undergraduate degrees from SRU are interested in the endorsement as well.
“Outside professionals make up almost all of endorsement program currently, including two guidance counselors from Slippery Rock High School, and quite a few teachers who are still working while taking the online classes,” Isherwood said.
“Many students aren’t just in it for the endorsement though – they are working on their Master’s in special education with the autism specialization.”
The endorsement consists of four online courses, or 12 credits, focused on understanding autism. The courses include, “Advanced Studies of Autism Spectrum Disorders,” “Applied Behavior Analysis/ Single Subject Experimental Design,” “Communication and Social Competency” and “Curriculum and Instruction for Autism Spectrum Disorders.”
While there is no actual teaching certificate in autism, the new endorsement can be added to an existing teaching certification through the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
“We haven’t advertised the endorsement yet, but I do anticipate people applying just for the four classes,” Isherwood said. “We’re still in limbo.”
For current graduate students, the certification will be added to their diploma.
The online courses are expected to aid those working in the fields that are unable to commute to the SRU campus.
SRU modeled its course certification on those already being used at other universities.
The courses will be offered on a year-round basis and are open to those in the field looking to sharpen their autism understanding or those seeking job opportunities in the autism and special education area.