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Monday, June 17, 2013

MSU offers program to train autism specialists

The huge waiting list for people with autism to be treated by specialists is likely to become shorter because of a new program offered this fall by Michigan State University.

The Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis will be taught completely online in connection with the special education master’s degrees at MSU.

Some 16,000 students in Michigan have various forms of autism, but only about 50 certified behavior analysts are working with families statewide. Recent legislation requiring health insurers to cover autism-related services has made it easier for Michigan families to access the services, but more high-quality training programs are desperately needed.

 “We know applied behavior analysis works for kids and we need experts to deliver those services, whether it is in homes or schools,” said Joshua Plavnick, assistant professor of special education in MSU’s College of Education. “There are not enough of them across the state.”

The MSU program will prepare students to become board certified behavior analysts. The analysts know how to assess complex behavioral issues related to communication or social interaction, for example, and develop individual improvement plans.

In the case of autism, Plavnick said the analysts are qualified to help children learn important new skills by first breaking down those skills into more manageable goals. They also are adept at finding and isolating the issues in a child’s environment that trigger problem behaviors.

Brooke Ingersoll said applied behavior analysis can be provided in schools, but special education teachers don't typically receive extensive training in the area.

“It’s important for us to increase the number of interventionists,” said Brooke Ingersoll, assistant professor of psychology.

To become fully certified, students must also complete independent field work supervised by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and pass the Behavior Analyst Certification Board exam.

Jerry Wolffe is the Rights Advocate at Large/Writer in Residence at Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at (586) 263-8950.

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