Special Autism Training for Educators



Special education teachers have, on the average, fewer years of teaching experience than general education teachers. Twelve percent of special education teachers have less than four years of teaching experience, while only 10% of general education teachers have less than four years.

Almost 700 colleges and universities in the United States have programs to prepare students to become special education teachers. Most of these are at the bachelor’s level. These programs typically require course work the school deems appropriate for teacher preparation; they also involve students in numerous experiences with children with disabilities. As such, the programs are designed to give students the course work and field work necessary to meet their state’s
licensure requirements. This means that a graduate of a state accredited program in Nebraska will meet the requirements for an entry-level teaching license in that state.Since there is a great variety in state licensure requirements, there can also be a great deal of variety in the way colleges arrange their curricula. Most states require special education teachers to complete a bachelor’s degree program, although some states require a master’s for special education licensure.Other states require licensure in general education first, then additional course work in special education.

Colleges and universities are not only accredited by their states, but the teacher education programs at these institutions may also choose to seek accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). NCATE is the national accrediting body for teacher preparation programs. Schools accredited by NCATE have met rigorous standards established by working professionals in the teacher education field. The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the professional organization representing special education teachers, administrators, and other professionals who work with children with disabilities, has developed guidelines for special education teacher preparation programs that have been adopted and are used by NCATE.

Most states require that students have some kind of field experience with exceptional students prior to student teaching. All states require that those studying to become special education teachers perform student teaching as part of their training. The length of this practicum varies by state but is usually at least 8 to 10 weeks of full-time teaching.


Most colleges and universities prepare students to meet the requirements established by their state for a teaching license. Therefore, their curriculum will include and sometimes reflect the standards established by the state. State licensure requirements are set by standards boards. Most state standards boards have members who are appointed by the governor and who serve in an advisory capacity to the state department of education. However, some standards boards are independent of departments of education and are accountable to the state legislatures.

There is a great deal of variation among the requirements and standards states use to license special education teachers. Some states have “categorical” licensure, which means that the state licenses a teacher to teach students in a particular disability category, such as those with hearing impairments, physical disabilities, or mental retardation. States that have “noncategorical” or a generic licensure give teachers a general license to teach any child with a disability.

Most states have a blend of categorical or noncategorical licensure, giving licenses for some disabilities and blending several disabilities into one licensure category (such as mild disabilities). Some states have categories related to severity of the disability; for example, Arkansas’s licensure titles include “teacher of the mildly disabled” (all age groups), “teacher of the deaf or hard-of-hearing,” and “teacher of the seriously emotionally disturbed” (all age groups). Other states have titles related to the age of the child. For example, Maryland has titles for generic infant primary, generic elementary/middle, generic secondary/adult, as well as titles for teacher of those with hearing impairments, teacher of those with severe/profound disabilities, and teacher of those with visual impairments.

Not only are there differences between categorical and noncategorical licensure, but there is
also a wide variety of terminology used to describe disabilities or to describe categories. There are over 100 different titles used to describe disabilities among all the state requirements. For example, acoustically disabled, deaf/hard-of-hearing, hearing impaired, aurally disabled, and communications disabled are all titles different states use to describe licensure for teachers of children who have hearing impairments.

This great variety among state special education teacher licensures becomes a particularly difficult issue when fully certified special education teachers move from state to state. A person who has a license to teach in New Mexico (which issues only a generic special education license for all children in grades K-12) may have a difficult time if he or she moves to Nevada, which has 12 different categorical titles. Most states have dealt with this issue by providing a teacher who is fully licensed in another state with an initial, temporary, or provisional license that allows the teacher to teach while he or she takes the university course work necessary to meet the new state’s requirements.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), a national organization whose mission is to establish rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do, is in the process of developing standards for exemplary-level special education teachers (NBPTS, 1995). Just as a “board-certified” physician is a doctor who has mastered and demonstrated a high level of expertise (beyond entry level), a special education teacher who has met the high standards and received certification from the NBPTS can be considered a “master teacher.”

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