Are three hour autism training courses helpful?

I received an email today from an agency that provides three hour training courses on autism required by the NY State Office of Teaching Initiatives (OTI) for all candidates seeking a Special Education Classroom Teaching certificate. The three hour course is popular because it is frequently used by CSEs as a training mechanism for educational staff who are working with children who have an autism spectrum diagnosis.

I think the intent here is good - many professionals and paraprofessionals who work in special education may not have a lot of information about specific conditions and presumably anything that provides some information might be helpful.

Parents who come to my office often verbalize frustration that the aides or classroom staff in schools are not adequately prepared to understand their children's needs. I assume that this dissatisfaction is what drives families to private practitioners in some cases.

I have an interest in certification so I got to wondering what this certificate actually provided or promoted. If it was effective, why do so many parents still talk about how the schools are not properly educated about autism? These seem to be legitimate questions.

I tried to find out more about the autism certificate course and quickly ran into dead ends. I scanned the OTI website and couldn't find any information about outcome assessments of this educational requirement. I looked for information about how the curriculum was developed and that wasn't available either. I called a local colleague who teaches the course and that person was not aware of any outcome or effectiveness studies that have been done. I tried to call OTI but ended up in a circular pattern of button pushing. According to the phone recordings, most OTI staff are dedicated to reviewing applications and not dedicated to answering the phones.

So I am left wondering: is that autism training certificate program effective in any way? If there are studies done on the effectiveness of the requirement where are they? I can rather easily find reams of data on three hour defensive driving courses (interestingly, they are absolutely ineffective) but I can't find any data on effectiveness of three hour autism courses.

I was twittering with another colleague today about the Touch television program that assigns prophetic powers to a child who may have autism. My concern is that the many hours that this show will be aired will fill people's heads with all kinds of ideas regarding the abilities of people who have autism. I know - it is just fiction - but not all minds are discerning. Will the three hour course overcome the powerful and entertaining but incorrect messages contained in a slickly produced television drama?

Or will this television show have a deeper influence on the development and perpetuity of an unhelpful cultural archetype that reinforces the 'autism as special power' myth. In recent years we have had 'Rain Man' and the 'Curious Incident' book and 'The Boy who Could Fly' and many others.

Does the myth matter? I am not sure. It would be nice to know if these three hour training courses met any real need though, or if we need to do something better.


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