The Need for Special Education Teachers Part 3 – Autism

California Commission on Teacher Credentialing: The Need for Special Education Teachers Part 3 – Autism
California Commission on Teacher Credentialing: The Need for Special Education Teachers Part 3 – Autism

Autism is a common disability among children, but it’s also one of the most misunderstood.

As the number of learners with autism continues to rise, schools need special education teachers who are qualified to advocate for them.

This article is part of a series about the demand for special education teachers with expertise in mild/moderate disabilities and autism.

Read on to explore autism and how an autism education program, like Redlands’ online Master of Arts in Learning and Teaching, will prepare you to improve educational outcomes for diverse learners.

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What Is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability. The U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) describes autism as significantly affecting verbal communication, nonverbal communication, and social interaction.

Individuals with autism may also have other characteristics, including:

  • Engaging in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements.
  • Resisting environmental change or changes in daily routines.
  • Demonstrating unusual responses to sensory experiences.

To qualify for special education services under the IDEA autism education disability, a child must exhibit symptoms that hinder their academic performance (Source).

Autism is also called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). That’s because the type and severity of symptoms can vary by person. An individual may not exhibit all of the possible behaviors but will likely show several (Source).

Health professionals can spot autism from an early age.

It can be diagnosed in children as young as 2 years old, but most kids are diagnosed after age 4. In many cases, parents recognize issues with socialization, communication, and fine motor skills before their child turns 1 year old (Source).

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What Are Some Myths About Autism?

1. Individuals with autism lack emotion.

People with autism are sometimes perceived as aloof. With a flat tone of voice or problems with back-and-forth conversation, they can appear detached from those around them (Source).

In reality, these behaviors stem from difficulties with language and communication.

Individuals with autism have feelings but may have trouble talking about them. In fact, a recent study showed that adults with autism could identify complex emotions (e.g., relief, regret) as easily as those without it (Source).


2. People with autism have intellectual disabilities.

This is one of the most common myths about autism education.

Autism is a developmental disability, not a learning disability. However, it can occur alongside several other conditions. Intellectual disability is one.

The intellect of most children with autism is on par with their peers. In one study, 44% of kids with autism had an IQ score at an average to above-average level.

Thirty-one percent had an IQ score in the range of intellectual disability, and the remaining 25% were borderline (Source).

Children with autism can also achieve positive educational outcomes. Their learning may just progress more slowly.


3. Autism causes antisocial behavior.

There’s a misconception that individuals with autism don’t want friends or dislike the company of others.

The truth is many people with autism enjoy being social. But because autism affects the ability to communicate and build relationships, they may not know how.

For example, individuals with autism may avoid looking at the person who’s speaking to them. Or they may respond slowly to someone who’s trying to get their attention (Source).

These behaviors aren’t avoidance measures. They’re symptoms of difficulty with social interaction.

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How Prevalent Is Autism Among Children?

Autism is the fourth most common disability among the 13 categories defined by IDEA.

In the U.S., approximately 10% of students ages 3 to 21 who receive special education services have autism (Source).

Diagnoses are growing. Since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began tracking autism in 2000, the number of children with autism has increased almost every year. The most recent data shows that between 2000 and 2014, the rate surged from 1 in 150 children to 1 in 59 (Source).

The prevalence of autism in California is similar to national figures. Thirteen percent of special education students in the Golden State have autism, making it the third most common disability (Source).

Autism authorities credit several factors for the rise in autism.

Some believe the CDC’s method for determining prevalence has continually undercounted cases. CDC analyzes the health and school records of children in certain counties. This approach excludes kids without records, including those who are home-schooled (Source).

Others attribute the increase to greater awareness of autism and to changes in how the condition is diagnosed.

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How Does Autism Affect Learning?

Autism is not a learning disability, but it can affect a child’s ability to learn.

Deficits in social interaction, communication, as well as restrictive and repetitive behaviors may cause children with autism to learn more slowly (Source).

For example:

  • A change to the classroom routine may distract a child with autism.
  • A child may have problems focusing when there’s excessive light or noise.
  • A child with a passion for limited topics can become disinterested in other areas.

But children with autism also have many strengths when it comes to learning (Source):

  • They can learn details and remember them for a long time.
  • They have a strong ability to learn by seeing and hearing.
  • They often excel in math, science, music, and art.

Autism education should focus on what a child can do. Teachers in the field of autism education aim to improve learning while maximizing a child’s strengths. They provide differentiated instruction, build social and communication skills, enhance executive functioning, and help children process sensory information.

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How Do Special Education Teachers Support Learners with Autism?

University of Redlands will help you master innovative approaches to respond to the complexities of teaching in the 21st century.

The online Master of Arts in Learning and Teaching is an interdisciplinary program that integrates the California Education Specialist Credential. It’ll prepare you to teach students with mild to moderate disabilities and autism in K-12 settings through age 22.

What sets University of Redlands apart from other special education degree programs?

All of the work you will do as a student is based on social justice principles. You’ll examine cultural diversity, equality, and inclusion and use them to guide your practice as a special education teacher.

One of the foundations of the program is the study of the tension between (dis)ability studies and special education. As you review historical and contemporary perspectives, you’ll uncover conflicting ideas and then learn how to navigate them.

The program will empower you to reflect on your biases and perceptions. As a graduate, you’ll become a knowledgeable and self-aware advocate for students with disabilities.

University of Redlands’ Master of Arts in Learning and Teaching  program will also develop your understanding of culturally responsive teaching practices.

It will train you to improve learning while recognizing each student as an individual with a unique background, needs, and strengths.

By examining the intersection of inclusion, (dis)ability, and the classroom community, you will:

  • Understand the ways you make sense of student behavior.
  • Learn evidence-based instructional practices grounded in person-centered values.
  • Apply essential interventions, such as Response to Intervention (RtI) and Behavior Support Plans (BSP).

University of Redlands’ education program for aspiring special education teachers will enable you to teach diverse learners in a way that honors their individuality while improving their educational outcomes.

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American Association of Colleges & Universities (2018, September 2). Employers Agree: College Degrees are Worth It. Retrieved from

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2018, May 25). Sec. 300.8 (c). Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019, September 3). Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved from

National Institute of Mental Health (n/a). Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved from

Science Daily (2019, January 7). Adults with autism can read complex emotions in others. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018, April 27). Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2014. Retrieved from

National Center for Education Statistics (n/a). Table 204.30. Children 3 to 21 years old served under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B, by type of disability: Selected years, 1976-77 through 2017-18. Retrieved from

California Legislative Analyst’s Office (2016, December 2). Overview of Special Education in California. Retrieved from

Scientific American (2017, March 3). The Real Reasons Autism Rates Are Up in the U.S. Retrieved from

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