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Penn State Course Helps Teachers Adapt to Reach Autistic Students

5/18/2007 —

Currently, there are more than 8,000 autistic children enrolled in Pennsylvania’s schools—many of them taught in the general classroom, alongside non-autistic children. However, in a recent survey of more than 1,100 teachers in the state, only 8 percent characterized themselves as proficient in teaching students with autism. As part of a statewide initiative by Penn State, “Students with Autism in Inclusive Settings” is being offered at Penn State York June 7 through June 28, Tuesday and Thursday from 6 – 9 p.m.

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While the focus of this course is for general educators, others who participate in the education, counseling, or therapy of students with autism/PDD will also benefit from its content. The course consists of two components—face-to-face classroom interactions with local autism experts, and DVD lectures delivered by Pamela Wolfe, associate professor of special education and academic director of Penn State’s autism certificate and autism specialist programs. By participating in the 12-classroom hour course, which can be taken for 2 credits, or Act 48 credit hours, teachers can learn about classifications and assessments of autism and related conditions, approaches for teaching children with autism, and strategies for partnering with specialists and parents. Brenda Hartman, supervisor, Autistic Support Program, LIU # 12 is the instructor for the course.

“So many general classroom teachers in Pennsylvania are faced with the special challenges of working with autistic kids,” said Ed Donovan, director of education and health programs for Penn State Continuing Education, “But they feel they are not adequately trained to do so.” Penn State, he noted, is in an “ideal position” to deliver consistent training to classroom teachers because of its statewide campus system.

Diagnoses of autism are on the rise, with the most recent statistics available indicating a national average of 1 in 150 children afflicted with the disorder. For the past eight years, Penn State has worked closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and its Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PATTAN) to address the increasing demands on special education teachers in the state. The University also hosts the largest National Autism Conference in the U.S., with more than 2,700 attendees in 2006. In addition, Penn State has received several national awards for autism programs, including a thirty-minute documentary entitled Children and Autism: Time is Brain, which is featured in “Students with Autism in Inclusive Settings.”

This course is also being offered at 19 other Penn State locations and some offerings began in April in observance of National Autism Awareness Month.

“Students with Autism in Inclusive Settings” will be offered at Penn State, The Lancaster Center on Mondays and Wednesdays from June 18 through June 28.

To register or for more information visit the Web site at http://www.outreach.psu.edu/cape/autisminclusive.

For information on the course in York please call Annie Haines at 717-771-4197 or e-mail her at azh2@psu.edu or Beth Gill-MacDonald ay 717-771-4047 or bxg5@psu.edu. In Lancaster, please call Bea Landis at (717) 299-7667 or e-mail her at bkl1@psu.edu .

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