On April 2, thousands of landmarks, homes and businesses in more than 150 countries were lit up blue marking the start of World Autism Month to increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism. In solidarity, Johns Hopkins lit up Gilman Hall.
For Associate Professor Tamara Marder, every day is an occasion to promote awareness of autism, a disorder that is characterized by difficulties in communication and social skills and delays in language development. She is the coordinator of two graduate programs at the School of Education that help train professionals to support students with autism: the Master of Science in Education with an Emphasis in Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Post-Master’s Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
The post-master’s certificate in ABA trains special educators, administrators and school counselors to become experts in the field of applied behavior analysis, which uses research-based strategies to improve socially significant behaviors in students with autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances and mental health problems. Educators who receive preparation in the evidence-based practice of ABA will be better prepared to meet the needs of a growing population of students requiring special education services.
“People enroll in the program to learn how to apply evidence-based educational practices to school settings,” said Marder, who is a licensed psychologist and a board-certified behavior analyst. “We’re talking about strategies to teach new skills and decrease challenging behavior that have been shown to be effective by numerous research studies.”
Marder said candidates in the program will learn, too, how to collect and analyze data and make data-based decisions to determine when change is needed to ensure that the strategies being implemented are benefiting their students.
The 24-credit post-master’s certificate in ABA offers eight courses that align with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board requirements and provide the opportunity to complete the required practicum hours. Upon completion of coursework and the practicum requirements, graduate of the program are eligible to pursue certification as a behavior analyst through the board.
“We’re the only school of education in Maryland to offer the post-master’s certificate,” she said. “The advantage of this program is that the majority of our faculty are working in a variety of educational settings. They know the challenges of applying these practices in the classroom and helping guide graduate students as they learn these strategies.”
The 33-credit master’s in education program prepares individuals to teach students from birth to adult who are identified with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and whose educational priorities include specialized instruction and support in the areas of communication, social and emotional skills, cognitive skills and adaptive/independence skills.
“This program is dedicated to providing enhanced training to educators in evidence-based practices to meet the needs of a growing population of students requiring special education services,” said Marder.
The program requires that candidates complete a series of courses within the severe disabilities and autism program, an applied internship in a setting that provides support to students on the autism spectrum and the completion of a comprehensive exam and an advanced graduate project.
“A majority of our candidates in the master’s program find that inclusive settings are the norm and they’ve never taught a student with autism before,” she said. “We enable candidates to learn specific, evidence-based strategies to apply in the classroom so that they can develop instructional programs that result in the best outcomes for all of their students.”
Marder said she was drawn to the field of special education and applied behavior analysis because of the opportunity to improve or change the behavior of individuals that would help them maximize their independence and success.
“I especially love teaching graduate students in our field because I get to see them exhibit enthusiasm for applying what they are learning in their coursework in their own classrooms,” she said. “Once educators are trained to apply, evaluate and monitor evidence-based practices, then all students who need specialized instruction can benefit.”