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Monday, November 13, 2017

COE Training Teachers to Work with Students with Autism

SPED faculty
San Diego State University and the College of Education’s Department of Special Education is known as a national leader in training teachers to work with students with autism.

Since the Department of Special Education began offering classes focused on autism nearly 20 years ago, it has been busy training future and current teachers and other school personnel on how to best support students with autism spectrum disorder.

“I am very proud of the work that we’ve done as a department,” said Dr. Laura Hall, chair of the Department of Special Education. “I think that our focus in working in schools and with school personnel makes us stand out as a leader in that particular area.”

Hall and her team are actively engaged in several grant-funded projects to extend the reach of their work training future teachers and school personnel on how to effectively support students with autism. They are also spearheading important national research on the subject.

Some of the Department’s current projects include:

  • The Department is a part of a national research project--the Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder—which is evaluating the implementation of evidence-based practices in high schools. Dr. Sam Odom and Dr. Kara Hume received a $10 million grant for this multi-state national project —North Carolina, Wisconsin and California—to prepare high school students with autism to transition to community life and give them the best chances for post-school outcomes. Dr. Hall and Dr. Bonnie Kraemer are the San Diego Co-Principal Investigators on this project and Dr. Christopher Brum has served as one of the key personnel throughout the 3-year study.
  • The Department is also conducting research focused on working with families and young children with autism spectrum disorder that come from families that speak languages other than English. Dr. Yasemin Turan Qian and Dr. Hall have been focused on this effort to learn more about the languages parents and professionals use at home and in school with young children with autism spectrum disorder from homes where languages in addition to English are spoken, and exploring the possibilities of supporting dual-language development.
  • Dr. Jessica Suhrheinrich recently received part of a $1.4 million grant to study ways to improve the implementation of evidence-based educational strategies for students with autism spectrum disorder. She will work with colleagues at the University of California, Davis, to examine the effectiveness of the California Autism Professional Training and Information Network, a statewide interagency collaboration that uses a train-the-trainer model to increase knowledge and use of evidence-based practices throughout California. 
  • Dr. Kraemer and Dr. Katina Lambros were just awarded a $1.25 million grant to prepare special educators and school psychologists with an understanding of autism spectrum disorder and mental health issues. This newly awarded grant from the Office of Special Education Programs continues the grant-supported work to provide scholarships to SDSU students learning about autism spectrum disorders that began with the first grant awarded to the department in 2003. 

“A lot of the projects that we work on are guided by implementation science because we know it’s not only important to teach the school personnel about the practices, but to help them to use them effectively and become fluent and competent in their use in schools,” Hall said.
The Department of Special Education also has some pending grants:

  • One grant will focus on conducting a longitudinal study to look at the graduates with autism of the high school study across the three states and a second will be a follow-up study of the CSESA project. Hall and Kraemer have been involved in the high school project and will continue to be involved in the focus on transition as well. 
  • Another study under review is looking at social skills groups for middle school students with autism, specifically evaluating two of the social skills curricula that have the most research evidence and looking at how they improve the social competence of individuals with autism in middle school.

“A competent teacher makes a huge difference in the quality of life of the individual with autism spectrum disorder and their family,” said Hall. “The more confident and competent the teacher is the better they are at maximizing the potential for individuals with autism.”