PSU Offers Teachers Autism Training; Summer Session Classes Announced
Author: Office of University Communications
Posted: April 20, 2007

Autism Awareness Month Highlights Need for Educators’ Additional Training

This summer, Portland State University will offer a schedule of courses specifically designed to better train teachers working with students with autism—an increasing and underserved population of children with disabilities.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, 1 in 98 Oregon students are on the autism spectrum, the highest reported rate of incidence in the United States. Given the overall increasing rates, autism will soon become the most common disability in America, according to the Autism Society of Oregon, which has designated April as “Autism Awareness Month.” In addition, Portland Mayor Tom Potter has designated Monday, April 23 as “Autism Awareness Day.”

“Portland State is doing a lot of research on what works in training these children,” says Leah Hershey, program specialist for the Autism Certificate Program at Portland State. “We believe we have a program that speaks to training. We’ve seen students that once couldn’t be in a classroom actually learn and access language.”

Under the leadership of Joel Arick, director of the Autism Training and Research Center, Portland State has been addressing autism issues and training for over 20 years. Arick has led several federally and state-funded projects and is the co-author of well-known screening and placement tools for identifying children with autism. Additionally, he has co-designed two research-based curricula, The STAR Program: Strategies for Teaching Based on Autism Research and FACTER: Functional Assessment and Curriculum for Teaching Everyday Routines.

Portland State’s Autism Certificate Program was established in 2005 and includes five three-credit courses and four one-credit field-based practical experiences. The program is for special education and general education instructors at the elementary and secondary school level. Portland State and the University of Oregon are the only educational institutions in the state to offer a series of autism-related courses. Western Oregon University offers a single course in the field. In most other cases, autism-training is a smaller part of overall special education coursework.

Additionally, PSU has collaborated with many school districts to establish a training site and instruction tailored to the specific needs of their faculty. Teacher interest in PSU’s autism certificate has proven significant and a waitlist has been established in some courses, demonstrating that there are not enough autism trainers to meet demand.

“As the population of kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders continues to grow in Oregon, it’s essential that special ed teachers receive the latest research-based teaching tools to help kids on the spectrum learn in a manner appropriate for their unique needs,” says Genevieve Athens, executive director of the Oregon Autism Society. “I’m happy that an institution like PSU is taking the lead in Portland on these issues.”

In 2006, the Oregon Teachers Standards and Practices Commission was asked to approve a statewide optional autism endorsement. The Commission subsequently tabled the idea and left certification requirements to individual school districts.

Teachers and others who work with children on the autism spectrum and who are interested in advancing their skills and understanding of working with learners across the autism spectrum can take individual courses or apply to receive the professional certificate through Portland State.

“We are all working together to establish curriculum that the OED could recommend statewide,” says Hershey.

Enrollment for Portland State’s Summer Session begins May 7 and, space-permitting, students can sign-up for courses through the first day of class. Portland State University’s entire summer session catalog, including course schedules and descriptions, is available at the PSU bookstore and online at

Summer Autism Training Courses at Portland State University
All courses are presented through the Continuing Education program in PSU’s Graduate School of Education. For more information on these or other continuing education classes, visit Instructor biographies are available upon request. For more information contact Leah Hershey, 503-725-8102.

*Autism: The STAR Program (Strategies for Teaching Based on Autism Research)
(Sped 410/510 – July 23-27, 2007) Instructor: Joel Arick and Lauren Loos

*Autism Practicum; Application of the STAR program
(Spec 409/509 – July 23-27, 2007) Instructor: Joel Arick and Lauren Loos

*Educating Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders—Understanding the Research
(Sped 410/510 – July 9-13, 2007) Instructor: Helen Young
The courses with a * are part of the certificate of completion. The others are not.

Autism and Asperger’s Disorders: Information and Effective Intervention Strategies
(Sped 410 – June 25-Sept. 15, 2007) Instructor: Marrea Winnega

Outdoor Education/Recreation: Children with Autism
(Sped 460 – July 7-20, July 21-Aug. 3, 2007; Sped 560 – July 7-20, July 21 - Aug. 3) Instructor: various.

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Tom Webb (503-725-4889;
PSU School of Extended Studies