San Diego State University -- October 24, 2003

SDSU To Offer Autism Specialty In Special Education Teacher Program

$1.25 Million Federal Grant Supports First Such Training in San Diego

San Diego State University has received a $1.25 million federal grant to fund a new specialty in autism within the Master's program of SDSU's Department of Special Education. The grant will entitle 36 SDSU student teachers to full tuition support for the two-year program and provide the San Diego region with its first specialists in teaching children with autism.

Student-teachers in this program will get real world experience -- and help serve the community -- by working with children in the San Diego Unified School District, the Chula Vista School District, the Toddler Center at Children's Hospital, and the Institute for Effective Education, a school that serves children with special needs.

"The impetus for this grant is based on the strong need in the community for qualified teachers with knowledge and skills in autism. Due to the increasing numbers of children with autism, it is more imperative than ever before for the San Diego region to address this issue," said SDSU Special Education professor and project director Laura J. Hall.

The grant, from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services' Office of Special Education Programs, is for $250,000 a year for five years. The first student-teachers will enroll in the program in spring 2004.

Autism is becoming more prevalent at the national and local level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 10 percent increase of incidence of autism between the 1980s and the early 1990s. About 850,000 individuals nationwide are diagnosed with autism. In San Diego, about 1,760 public school children have been identified with autism and to this point, local schools have not been able to find teachers with the necessary expertise to work with children with autism.

Many special education teachers also believe that San Diego has an added challenge in making sure the Latino community is adequately served. Due to cultural and linguistic differences, additional cases of autism in that community may be unrecognized.

"Since 1997, the number of students identified with autism has dramatically increased. "There's a severe shortage of special education teachers that are trained with the specific skills to meet this population," said Janet Canning, consultant with the California Department of Education's Special Education Division. "We're thrilled to have SDSU assist in filling the gap for autism support in Southern California."

Gayle Coonce, program manager for the autism services at the San Diego Unified School District, said, "We're excited to see this type of initiative being undertaken by San Diego State. This new program will further support the district's efforts of providing quality services, especially for students with autism. We are pleased to collaborate with SDSU in our efforts to support new teachers."

CONTACT: Jennifer Zwiebel, SDSU Marketing & Communications (619) 594-4298, (619) 242-1365 pager,

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