Rising Autism Rates Create New Workforce Needs
Due to increased awareness and improvements in diagnostic criteria, the number of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnoses is on the rise. According to the Journal of American Medical Association, there are currently an estimated 2.5 percent of U.S. children ages 3 to 17 living with ASD. As that number grows, so does the need for professionals qualified to teach and support these individuals.
Working closely with advisory committees, WCTC identified two key issues in the field of autism support. First, Wisconsin schools are facing unprecedented teaching shortages. With the growing population of K-12 students with ASD comes the need for more educators with specialized training.
Additionally, the onus for supporting adults and very young children with ASD—and training staff to do so—often falls on community-based nonprofit agencies. These organizations may have limited resources, but the demand for a highly trained workforce is only increasing.
With these gaps in mind, WCTC designed two programs: a nine-credit Autism for Educators certificate and a 26-credit Autism Technician technical diploma. WCTC’s is one of only two Autism Technician programs in the Wisconsin Technical College System. Beyond foundational skills and knowledge, the program gives students the opportunity to participate in a practical internship in a school, community or agency setting.
“What makes our programs unique is the great lengths we went to develop curriculum that meets the distinct needs of two employer groups: K-12 school districts and nonprofit behavioral clinics,” said Joan Hader, associate dean in WCTC’s School of Protective & Human Services. “Outcomes for individuals with disabilities, including autism, are always improved when the people supporting them are highly educated.”