Get an online degree in autism education

DENTON- A study completed in 2003 indicated that the United States needs 13.4 percent more special education teachers, which translates to about 54,000 openings in schools across the country. Children with autism are a significant group among special needs students. Approximately one out of 160 8-year-olds in the U.S. show signs of autism.

The need for qualified teachers is even higher in rural areas where the necessary training is more difficult to obtain. According to State guidelines Texas has approximately 450 rural school districts, which is why the University of North Texas College of Education decided to offer a master's degree in special education with an emphasis on autism education that can be completed online.

The program is open to individuals with a four-year degree in any discipline of education, or individuals who are currently working within a school district. Twenty-five top students from rural Texas will be accepted on scholarship each year. The scholarship will cover the students tuition and fees. The first group of students began the program in the spring of 2009 and applications for the fall 2009 will be accepted via www.coe.unt. edu/autismprograms through July 15.

The program, known as Project DART (Distributed Education for Autism Personnel in Rural Texas), complements UNT's existing, oncampus master's degree in special education with a specialization in autism intervention. Project DART is funded by a four-year, approximately $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education that reaches out to rural Texans who lack access to training opportunities.

"In Texas, the incidence rate of autism has dramatically increased. In 2003, 11,940 Texas children were identified as having autism, with the numbers steadily increasing through the years," said Dr. Smita Mehta, associate professor in special education and the project's principal investigator.

"We need to reach the teachers of these children and make sure that they use evidencebased practices for maximum educational effect. This urgency has made it necessary for us to provide a distance education option for individuals who do not have access to universities in metropolitan areas," said Mehta.

The program incor porates a substantial field experience component. The groups of 25 students come to Denton each summer to collaborate and work with students with autism in the Denton ISD's extended school year program.

Dr. Kevin Callahan and Dr. Bertina Combes, both associate professors in the Department of Educational Psychology, are the project's co-directors and are collaborating with Mehta on the grant administration.

For more information on this program contact Mehta at Smita. or 940-565-7168, or Ms. Debbie Farr, the project's coordinator at Debbie.Farr@unt. edu or 940-891-6766.

The University of North Texas is a student-centered public research university and the flagship of the UNT System.

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