Graduate Certificate Programs in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
Graduate certificate programs with an Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) curriculum are non-degree academic programs offered by accredited colleges and universities that culminate in the conferral of a certificate rather than a degree. These programs are designed to provide teachers and other education professionals with a research-based understanding of ASD and with specialized skills for working with children, teens, and adults who have been diagnosed with ASD. In addition, the ASD-specific expertise cultivated in these programs has applications beyond the classroom, in other places in which individuals with ASD receive formal support from trained professionals, such in social and human services, healthcare, and mental health counseling settings.
To qualify for an ASD graduate certificate program, students must hold a bachelor’s degree, although graduate certificate programs are also appropriate for master’s and doctoral program graduates who are interested in cultivating a better understanding of ASD. These programs are generally designed to be flexible and convenient enough to accommodate an array of students, including recent college graduates and mid-career professionals. They generally consist of four, five, or six graduate courses that can be completed in a year or less, or roughly half the time it would take to complete a master’s degree in ASD or the related field of special education. Thus, ASD graduate certificate programs provide a relatively direct, cost-effective, and accessible means for students to develop the knowledge and skills required to work with individuals diagnosed with ASD and/or work toward state licensure and/or certification in special education for ASD students.
Autism Spectrum Disorders Explained
Autism Spectrum Disorders, which may also be referred to in the singular as Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects social interactions, communication skills, and situational behaviors, impacting an individual’s daily function to varying degrees. ASD is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which describes ASD as a spectrum of behaviors that includes deficits in social-emotional reciprocity; deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors; and deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships. Working with children and adults who exhibit symptoms of ASD in educational settings requires familiarity with these deficits, an understanding of the principles of behavioral science that apply to ASD, and training in evidence-based practices for accommodating and remediating problems associated with ASD, particularly in areas that involve learning and social function.
Because ASD usually presents early in life and is often diagnosed in young children, teachers and educators bear much of the responsibility for working with students who have ASD by providing academic instruction while helping them to cultivate better social and communication skills. Indeed, ASD is generally considered to be a branch or specialization within the field of special education and there is a large and growing body of evidence-based research that informs principles, practices, and pedagogical approaches to teaching children, teenagers, and adults with an ASD diagnosis. Many states have specialized licensure and/or endorsement policies that require ASD teachers to be trained not just in special education but also in ASD education. Thus, in order to be hired to teach in ASD classrooms, teachers must first undergo training that includes didactic coursework in ASD teaching and, in most cases, a specified number of supervised classroom hours with ASD students.
Identifying and Classifying ASD Graduate Certificate Programs
ASD graduate certificate programs are generally designated as such, although there are several common variations, including graduate, post-graduate, and post-baccalaureate certificate programs in Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Teaching Students with Autism. By definition, these programs require students to have already completed a bachelor’s degree. Some programs are designed specifically for teachers and require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in education and/or a state issued teaching license, while others accept applicants regardless of their prior training and professional experience, provided they hold a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or doctoral degree. There are also a limited number of ASD certificate programs that are designed for master’s program graduates and are thus designated as post-master’s certificate programs, although they too can be classified as graduate certificate programs.
ASD graduate certificate programs can also be identified by their curriculum. Most graduate certificate programs in ASD are offered by accredited colleges and universities through schools or departments of education and are comprised of a cluster of master’s-level courses that may overlap with a school’s master’s program in special education curriculum. Indeed, ASD teaching is considered to be a subspecialty within the larger field of special education, and some graduate certificate programs in ASD are graduate certificate programs in special education that include several elective or required courses in ASD assessment, intervention, and pedagogy. It is this focus on the expertise and knowledge required to provide effective instruction to individuals diagnosed with ASD that defines an ASD graduate certificate curriculum, as detailed in the section below.
Note: For information regarding special education graduate certificate programs, refer to our Graduate Certificate Programs in Special Education page.
ASD Graduate Certificate Courses
ASD graduate certificate programs are designed to prepare students for the challenges of teaching students diagnosed with ASD and thus offer a curriculum that provides didactic instruction in identifying signs of ASD, understanding the underlying behavioral mechanisms of ASD, and addressing the special needs of students in special education and ASD schools, programs, and classrooms. The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), a national association of special education professionals, publishes “Developmental Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder” skill set guidelines for teachers training to work with students who have developmental disabilities and ASD. These guidelines identify proficiencies in areas that include learner development and individual learning differences; learning environments; curricular content; assessment; instructional planning and strategies; professional learning and ethical practice; and collaboration.
ASD graduate certificate program curricula are generally informed by the CEC’s guidelines. Students in these programs learn to identify ASD behaviors. They use theories of applied behavior analysis to devise behavioral interventions with ASD students. And they develop individualized and group teaching strategies while working collaboratively with educators, counselors, social workers, and parents to improve the learning outcomes and life skills of students with ASD. While specific course names and course descriptions vary by program, ASD graduate certificate programs typically include the following types of courses:
- Survey of Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Developmental Assessment in Special Education
- Applied Behavior Analysis for Teachers
- Evidence-Based Practices for Learners with ASD
- Supporting Communication and Literacy for Individuals with Autism
- Instructional and Behavioral Interventions for ASD Students
In addition to didactic coursework, some graduate certificate programs in ASD incorporate a practicum or internship that requires students to engage in supervised teaching experiences with ASD students. These field experiences are generally a requirement for special education licensure, although specific requirements vary by state.
Online Graduate Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Graduate certificate programs are generally designed to be convenient and flexible enough to accommodate teachers, educators, social workers, and counselors who intend to continue working while taking graduate courses. One way schools accomplish this is by offering graduate certificate programs online. An online ASD graduate certificate program provides students with the same type of training and instruction as a traditional, campus-based program. However, online programs utilize distance learning technologies and dedicated learning management systems (LMSs) to offer all or most of their required coursework online. Students in an online program access live and pre-recorded lectures, interactive instructional modules, assignments, and other learning materials through a program’s LMS, which typically also serves to facilitate communication between students and instructors. Most online ASD graduate certificate programs are 100% online and do not require any campus visits. However, some programs may require students to attend a campus-based orientation session and/or a limited number of short campus residencies during which students attend live lectures, workshops, seminars, and other activities that benefit from hands-on, face-to-face learning.
In addition to fully online programs, there are also blended/hybrid online programs that offer a mix of online and campus-based instruction. These programs vary in format and in the amount of time and frequency with which students must be on campus. Some programs have weekly or bi-weekly campus meetings, while others offer some courses in a fully online format but require students to attend campus classes for other courses. Hybrid online and blended programs represent a more convenient and flexible alternative to fully campus-based programs, but they may not be a practical option for students who do not live within commuting range of the school offering the program.
Finally, there are two basic modes of online instruction: synchronous and asynchronous instruction. The mode of online instruction a program uses can impact the relative convenience and flexibility of the program and the overall learning experience for students. Synchronous instruction takes place in real-time and typically includes live-streamed lectures and/or live-streamed virtual class meetings once or twice a week. Asynchronous instruction denotes any learning activities that do not have a real-time component, such as pre-recorded lectures and presentations that are available via a program’s LMS. Online programs that utilize synchronous instruction provide more structure than programs that do not incorporate live sessions into the syllabus. Programs that do not utilize synchronous instruction and offer all of their coursework via asynchronous instruction afford more scheduling flexibility for students, but they require more self-discipline and self-motivation to complete readings, assignments, and participation requirements (e.g., in online discussion forums) by set deadlines.
Examples of Online Graduate Certificate Programs in ASD
The following are examples of universities that offer graduate certificate programs in ASD online. These are just a small representation of the online programs that are currently available for students to consider.
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte) offers an online Graduate Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The 12-credit program has a curriculum that aligns with CEC guidelines and that draws from a Master of Education (MEd) in Special Education program that UNC Charlotte offers. The program’s curriculum is designed for licensed teachers, although students with a bachelor’s degree who do not hold a teaching license are eligible to enroll in the program, particularly if their goal is to apply what they learn in the program to working with individuals in non-classroom settings. The UNC Charlotte program is 100% online and does not require any campus visits. To further explore the program, visit UNC Charlotte’s Distance Education division at distanceed.uncc.edu.
George Mason University (GMU) offers a part-time online Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Graduate Certificate program through Mason Online. The program is designed to prepare professionals and family members to work with children and adults with ASD in school, at home, and in community settings. The program consists of five courses that are drawn from GMU’s MEd in Special Education program. Students are not required to hold a prior degree or licensure in education, but some experience in an education-related field is recommended. The Mason Online program does not require any campus visits and can be completed in one year of part-time enrollment. To further explore the program, visit Mason Online at masononline.gmu.edu.
Arizona State University (ASU) offers an online Graduate Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders (An Overview of Autism Spectrum Disorders) that is designed to prepare teachers, counselors, psychologists, behavioral specialists, pathologists, and other education and mental health care professionals to work with children with autism spectrum disorders. Students take five classes for a total of 15 credits of coursework in areas such as behavioral analysis for special needs and exceptional learners; foundational concepts of autism spectrum disorders; behavior change processes and procedures; controversial therapies in educational contexts; ethics in applied behavior analysis; and important concepts in verbal and linguistic behavior. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in any field from an accredited institution are eligible to apply for this graduate certificate program, which is also 100% online and does not require any campus visits. To further explore this program, visit ASU Online at asuonline.asu.edu.
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