MSU introduces new program to train autism specialists

Jun 17, 2013

For families who have children with autism, finding a specialist to care for their children can mean being put on a long wait list.

Currently, there are about 50 certified behavior analysts in the state of Michigan.

Credit Powell K (2004). "Opening a window to the autistic brain"

However, there are over 18,000 children with autism.

Michigan State University hopes to help fill this gap. Beginning in the fall, the school will introduce a new Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis in connection with the special education master's degree.

"You end up with a situation where there's just not enough people to meet the need," said Joshua Plavnick, assistant professor of special education at MSU.

The new program will prepare students to take the board certification exam on behavior analysis. The courses will be primarily offered online, but with extensive hours of field work to be conducted prior to the exam. The program can be completed by anyone who has a degree in a related field such as special education, psychology, or speech communications.

Plavnick suspects there will be more need for board-certified analysts in the future.

Michigan insurers are now required to cover autism-related services for families.  That's expected to drive up demand for treatment. 

Specialists use behavior analysis to identify complex triggers in the behavior of children with the disorder.

Looking at environment, social interaction, and other information, people can create individual improvement goals and break them down step-by-step.   Plavnik says often, special education teachers don't receive enough training in this area.

"We know applied behavior analysis works for kids and we need experts to deliver those services," said Plavnick, "whether it is in homes or schools."

-Alana Holland, Michigan Radio Newsroom