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Preparing Personnel for Intervention with Young Children with Autism


There is a critical need to prepare personnel to work with young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families. The numbers of children with this diagnosis during the preschool years have increased significantly in the last decade. Both the number and the proportion of young children with ASD have grown nationally and in the state of Tennessee. The numbers of personnel prepared to serve young in children with ASD are insufficient to meet the needs in early intervention and early childhood special education programs and schools. In addition, the knowledge base for early intervention with children who have ASD has changed as a result of research in this area and advances in recommended practices in Early Childhood Special Education/Early Intervention (ECSE/EI).

This application requests support for a program to prepare master's degree students in ECSE/EI with a special emphasis on young children with ASD and their families. Our objective is to train 16 master's degree ECSE/EI professionals over the course of four years. These individuals will be competent to (1) Provide instructional support to young children with autism, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; (2) assist and support families of young children with ASD; (3) consult with and train other early childhood personnel related to intervention with children who have ASD; and (4) consume, apply, and generate research related to practices with young children with ASD and their families.

Students in this project will complete a 2-year program in early childhood special education in the Department of Special Education of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University leading to an M.Ed. degree and teacher licensure. The program draws on nationally recognized faculty in ECSE and in autism, the resources of an outstanding Department of Special Education, the John F. Kennedy Center for Research in Human Development, the VUMC Center for Child Development, and partnerships with public schools and intervention programs in Nashville, TN. Training involves foundational coursework in ECSE, specialized coursework in autism intervention; field experiences in early intervention classrooms, preschool public school classrooms, and consulting with parents and professionals; and conducting an applied research thesis. Emphasis in field experiences is placed on working with young children with autism in inclusive classrooms and natural environments. Graduates will be prepared for positions as early childhood special education teachers, itinerant and consultant teachers, as parent support and training personnel, and as leaders in their programs and school districts. They will have expertise in evidence-based practice as it relates to young children with ASD and be fluent in assisting children and families, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.