December 1, 2014 | 1:30 p.m.
By Tricia Theurer, Communications Specialist
The license in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) offered by Bethel University’s Graduate School recently received final accreditation, making it one of just a handful of accredited ASD license programs in the state. The license is in high demand in Minnesota due to a legislative change, effective next summer, mandating that all public schools in the state have at least one ASD-licensed teacher.
According to Autism Speaks, a leading autism science and advocacy organization, one in 68 children under age 18 in the U.S. has been diagnosed with ASD. Katie Bonawitz, Ed.D., program director of Bethel’s special education graduate programs and associate professor of education, says the timing of the accreditation is crucial for strategic, consistent training of teachers in this area, as ASD is the largest-growing field in special education. To better meet the academic needs of these children, Minnesota is requiring each public school to have at least one ASD- licensed teacher by July 1, 2015; the exact number required will vary depending on the size of the school. Bonawitz describes Bethel’s offering as an initial ASD license or an add-on to other special education licenses a teacher may already have. The ASD license, whether an initial or add-on, allows teachers to work with children from birth to age 21 who have been identified as having mild to severe cases of autism. Teachers with the license will also help identify students they believe should be further evaluated. “Almost everyone knows someone who has autism,” says Bonawitz. “At the graduate level, this is our way of serving a significant need in the field of special education.”
Geared toward working adults looking to add the license to an existing special education degree, the program offers a hybrid delivery format that can be completed in six to nine months. Cohorts of approximately 25 students start twice a year, but in light of the new legislation, this year Bethel will offer a third cohort and, if demand warrants, a fourth. The next ASD cohort begins in February 2015 with applications due December 15, 2014.
The ASD license isn’t the only route for teachers seeking training to work with students with special needs. Bonawitz points out that Bethel also offers an Academic Behavior Strategist (ABS) license. This license, in addition to training teachers to work with students in grades K-12 who have autism, also covers four other special education categories: Developmental Cognitive Disabilities (DCD), Emotional/Behavioral Disorders (EBD), Learning Disabilities (LD), and Other Health Disabilities (OHD). Teachers with the ABS license can work with children who have been identified as having mild to moderate needs in any of these five categories.
Looking ahead to meet the growing demand for special education programs, Bethel is working on the launch of a new licensure that will train educators to teach children with mild to severe cases of EBD and DCD, bringing to three the total of Bethel’s in-depth special education options. “It’s exciting to see all the things God is doing through special education at Bethel,” says Bonawitz.