Program helps meet Michigan demand for autism services

June 17, 2013

Joshua Plavnick

Michigan State University will help fill the state’s shortage of professionals qualified to treat autism by offering a new program starting this fall.

The Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) will be offered 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 ABA 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 at MSU. “There are not enough of them across the state, so those that exist are flooded with a huge wait list.”

The MSU program will prepare students to become Board Certified Behavior Analysts, who 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, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, said Applied Behavior Analysis can be provided in schools, but special education teachers don’t typically receive extensive training in the area, especially as needed for working with children with severe behavioral problems.

“It’s important for us to increase the number of interventionists,” she said. “And MSU is a great place to do this because we have faculty members with expertise in a variety of areas related to intervention and Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

Students with backgrounds or degrees in special education, psychology, social work and other related fields are welcome to apply and may complete the certificate separately or as part of the Master of Arts in Special Education.

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.

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