Despite the increasing prevalence of autism spectrum disorder diagnoses in children, there is a statewide shortage of professionals qualified to provide high-quality services to young children with ASD. This is particularly true when it comes to service providers who have training in special education and speech pathology, disciplines that might seem different but complement each other when working with children who have ASD.
Given this need, the United States Department of Education through the Office of Special Education Programs has awarded $1.3 million to fund an interdisciplinary personnel preparation program for Early Childhood Special Education and Speech-Language Pathology scholars.
Need for ECSE and SLP Services in Northern Nevada
Approximately 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with ASD in the United States. There is an increasing number of children in Nevada who require intervention services under the category of ASD.
“Even though we see an increase in the number of young children with autism who need services, we continue to experience a statewide shortage of ECSE teachers and speech-language service providers,” Diamond said. “In light of this shortage, we recognized the need to have both ECSEs and SLPs who are trained to provide interdisciplinary services for young children with ASD in Northern Nevada.”
The Nevada Collaborative: interdisciplinary preparation
“Across five years of programming, a total of 56 scholars (28 in ECSE and 28 in SLP) will receive financial support to complete their professional preparation through this interdisciplinary model,” said Olszewski.
Starting in the spring 2020 semester, scholars will enroll in a master’s degree program either in ECSE or SLP with an emphasis on serving young children with autism. Upon completion of the master’s program, scholars will be qualified for state and/or national certification in their respective fields.
The Nevada Collaborative (NVC) project is designed to be integrated into the existing master’s degree curriculum. As such, scholars will participate in their respective program coursework in addition to NVC’s shared coursework, interdisciplinary seminars, coordinated fieldwork/practicum experiences and ongoing interdisciplinary professional development activities designed to enhance the development of collaboration.
“Our goal with this project is to bridge the gap between special education and speech-language pathology preparation through an interdisciplinary model that will provide the most benefit to young children with ASD who have high-intensity communication needs,” said Olszewski.
“To provide the experience necessary to understand the views and perspectives of experts in the field, we will offer a series of guest lectures during the academic year,” said Diamond. Experts are to include an individual with ASD and a parent of a child with ASD. Additional experts will be recruited from various educational areas (e.g., psychology, early childhood education, ECSE, SLP, ASD).
An advisory planning team comprised of university faculty, parents, and an individual with ASD will assist NVC in the design, implementation and reflection of the project; contribute ideas of critical content to be covered during interdisciplinary seminars; and review NVC scholar progress.
Over the past three years, the researchers demonstrated an intense commitment to collaborative interdisciplinary preparation, which was evidenced through the relationship developed between Diamond in the College of Education and Olszewski in the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and their recently published interdisciplinary research that helped inform and conceptualize the plan for NVC.
The researchers have also fostered several collaborative partnerships throughout Nevada with the Department of Education, Healthy Minds, Safe Schools, the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy, ECSE and SLP practitioners in the field, and the Washoe County School District.
This commitment was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, who awarded the grant funding.
“One of the most exciting aspects of the NVC is that we dedicated over 60% of the funding to directly support scholars who are enrolled in our program,” said Diamond. “The remaining funding will support other aspects of grant management.”
If you’re interested in learning more about this program, you can attend an informational meeting being held on October 24th at 5:30 pm at the Speech and Hearing Clinic on the University of Nevada, Reno Campus.
Note: The contents of this piece were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, #H325K190034. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.