OK, We’re Aware. Now What?
By Tamara Marder, PhD, BCBA-D
One in 68.
According to the most recent estimates from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, that’s the rate of children identified with autism spectrum disorders.
But the odds are that you already knew that.
Why? Over the past several decades, awareness of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has received a big boost from the wide adoption of April as National Autism Awareness Month and, more recently, April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day, now in its 11th year.
Even with heightened awareness brought about by ASD-dedicated organizations, we have a responsibility as educators and practitioners to continue the push.
One way is for special education teacher-preparation programs to bring greater awareness to evidence-based practices (EBPs): teaching and intervention strategies that demonstrably improve learning outcomes for students with autism. We should be training the next generation of special educators to:
- identify evidence-based instructional strategies,
- implement evidence-based practices with fidelity, and
- “practice evidence” every day in the classroom.
Identifying Evidence-Based Instructional Strategies
In their influential article Evidence-Based Practices and Autism, Gary B. Mesibov and Victoria Shea define EBPs as instructional strategies, interventions, or instructional programs that produce consistent, positive student outcomes when tested experimentally.
Fortunately, online resources that identify EBPs are now widely available. These resources narrow the research-to-practice gap, giving educators easy access to proven strategies. The two main resources dedicated to disseminating and summarizing EBPs used to address needs of students with ASD are the National Autism Center (NAC) and the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder (NPDC). Resources provided by NAC and NPDC help special educators match effective strategies with individual student needs.
Implementing EBPs with Fidelity
Teaching procedures that are implemented with high fidelity improve student outcomes. The use of fidelity checklists during training can directly measure an educator’s ability to correctly implement all components of a specific EBP.
Training opportunities during teacher preparation coursework and internship experiences should include repeated practice of known EBPs using fidelity checklists, as well as direct feedback on performance through coaching and mentoring.
“Practicing Evidence” Every Day in the Classroom
Training educators in evidence-based practices means providing training on the accurate measurement of daily instruction. This includes training on data collection, the evaluation of that data, and steps for making data-based decisions to promote students’ progress and planning for the future.
Yes, it seems like everyone knows 1 in 68. But as practitioners and educators, there is more we can do to truly move the needle. To further increase awareness of ASD—and specifically, to improve learning outcomes for students with autism year-round—these three areas of training must be emphasized in teacher preparation programs: identifying EBPs, implementing them with fidelity, and training teachers to “practice evidence” every day in the classroom.
For more information on how the School of Education is preparing special educators to improve learning outcomes for students with ASD, please see information on our related master’s degree and graduate certificate programs. To learn more about how our students and alumni are making an impact in the field, check out our stories on social media throughout the month of April.
Tamara Marder is an associate professor of special education at the Johns Hopkins School of Education. She serves as program coordinator for the Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism, and Severe Disabilities programs.
Master of Science in Special Education
Severe Disabilities with an Autism Spectrum Disorders Specialization