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How ASAT Supports Special Education and General Education Teachers

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, Kaitlyn Evoy, BA, Sarah Cummins, MA, BCBA, and Kate McKenna, MEd, MSEd, BCBA, LBA. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

The Association for Science in Autism Treatment strives to promote evidence-based practices for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in all aspects of their life, including in the classroom. The reality is, of all the professionals and specialists in the field of education, teachers have the largest amount of time with children with ASD over the course of their formative years. Despite this fact, teachers often have the least amount of formal training in the area of autism.

Most special education programs prepare teacher candidates for a wide variety of positions, working with students with an array of needs, abilities, and required accommodations. The reasoning is simple: only a relatively smaller percentage of candidates in the program will work with students who require substantial levels of support. This reality molds their training programs to prepare future teachers for their more likely positions, working with students with high-incidence disabilities. This begs two questions: Are university students who exit special education training programs truly trained to educate learners with complex needs? And, do employers (e.g., schools) have the expectation that new teachers should come with this education and training?

Legislation has aimed at holding special education teachers to high standards, with specific wording calling for the necessity for “highly qualified” teachers. This performance expectation is hard to reach. While people in power (e.g., legislators, politicians, administrators) want schools to hire teachers who have high qualifications, the reality is that it is challenging for teachers to achieve this status. Special education teachers often lack support in the form of staffing, curriculum, administration backing, supplies, and the planning time needed to prepare and provide for what their students need. In order to successfully teach their students, special education teachers often use their own time to seek professional development, support, and advice. The array of information on treatments, approaches, and therapies is overwhelming. The resources are often lacking in evidence, difficult to understand, or simply do not exist. Combine these truths with the stress and burnout this career brings, and teachers are set up to struggle daily. Yet, the pressure on teachers to be “highly qualified” remains.

We acknowledge that students with autism are educated in a variety of settings, and that teachers are subsequently expected to work in a variety of settings. General education teachers may have students with autism in their classrooms, with and without paraprofessionals for support. Special education teachers could be working in a more supportive role in a general education classroom or pulling students out to work in a resource room. Another scenario is working in self-contained special education classrooms with no paraprofessional support, or they may have to supervise a team of support staff. Teachers in classrooms with paraprofessionals may be responsible for educating classroom staff about autism and training them in specific intervention strategies. This is despite a lack of substantial training about autism and limited training in supervising and working with support staff. Furthermore, many teachers are directing large numbers of paraprofessionals while still retaining direct teaching responsibilities, not to mention that staff shortages may require daily triaging to ensure that students are adequately covered.

Additionally, teachers in both general and special education settings may find themselves facing challenges that were not addressed in their college or university coursework or their student teaching experience. For example, snack and lunch time may be complicated by issues of feeding disorders or food refusal. Families may require school support with teaching toileting skills or addressing school refusal. Challenging behavior may disrupt lessons and cause problems during transitions. Teachers can be expected to incorporate the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices into the curriculum and daily routines of the classroom.

ASAT can be a bright light in a landscape of confusion. With explicit aim to offer resources for a wide variety of professions, including teachers, our information is comprehensive, easily organized, and backed by science. Gone are the days when teachers had to rely solely on advice from colleagues, blogs, or Pinterest to find intervention strategies and techniques. ASAT gathers and creates information about evidence-based practices that are easy to read on a platform that is easy to navigate – and it is all free.

It is our hope that this article serves to provide a comprehensive list of resources offered to teachers of students with autism. The links presented here focus on solutions to a variety of challenges including increasing independence, developing skills, augmenting inclusion opportunities, increasing community integration, preparing for adulthood, as well as other topics of interest to family members and other service providers who work with this population. We anticipate this list of offerings will continue to grow. In the future, we very much look forward to sharing new, innovative articles that are currently in development.

Prior to sharing many of our offerings that are well suited for teachers, we would first like to highlight three broader initiatives:

  1. ASAT publishes a monthly newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, containing reviews of published research, books, and consumer resources (e.g., training videos, websites, or resource lists like this one on promoting success at the dentist), interviews with leaders in the field of autism treatment for older children and adults, as well as parent advocates, answers to questions about important clinical issues related to education and treatment, tips to differentiate evidence-based options from others marketed as panaceas, and more. In addition, you can find links to the current newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, as well as past issues in the Archived Newsletters section. You can read more about Science in Autism Treatment and its diverse content and features here and also subscribe for free.
  2. ASAT’s website (www.asatonline.org) offers resources for teachers and other educational personnel (e.g., lists of apps to use in the classroom, bullying prevention resources, as well as lists of print resources like this one that helps classmates learn about autism). We also provide resources geared towards parents and medical professionals. As part of our vision to provide accurate information, we update our content to reflect up-to-date research and evaluations of new treatments. Our website also has interviews that reflect the perspectives of different stakeholders, including parents. We are pleased to share that we have launched a special page for teachers that lists articles topically.
  3. ASAT also has a 150-hour Externship program for students, professionals, and family members to gain experience in a not-for-profit organization while increasing their knowledge within the field of autism. Many of our past and current Externs are teachers or hold degrees in education (which include the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th authors of this article). Furthermore, many members of our Board of Directors and Professional Advisory Board possess teaching degrees and certificates.

In the remainder of this article, we describe many of our resources in greater detail as they relate to teachers and individuals with autism in school settings.

Science Corner

Science Corner offers user-friendly knowledge about scientific concepts to help our readers become savvier consumers. Recent published installments include topics such as making sense of the evidenceretraction of published research, pitfalls of circular reasoning, and conducting a comprehensive literature search. In order to evaluate research, claims, and educational interventions for students with autism spectrum disorders, it is crucial to understand and recognize the differences between science and pseudoscience. There is also a group of articles that evaluates whether or not specific treatments or fads are evidence-based (i.e., “Is There Science Behind That?”). Some of the topics teachers may encounter in their careers or be asked about by their students’ parents include Facilitated Communication, sensory diets, service dogs, and gluten-free/casein free diets.

Research Synopses

Research Synopses, as its name implies, contains reviews of relevant studies related to autism. There, teachers can find quick summaries of complex research, helping them to save time in their review of literature on their journey to use evidence-based practices in the classroom. There is a growing list of specific psychological, educational, and therapeutic interventions. Some interventions have multiple studies referenced and reviewed. If teachers are looking for more information on specific interventions, including the evidence or lack thereof, they can find those as well. Applied behavior analysis has dozens of studies linked given the tremendous body of literature, including classroom applications of functional analysis, a meta-analysis on TEACCH, supporting appropriate transitions, and early intervention in public preschool and kindergarten to name a few. A section on effective procedures for teaching specific skills to individuals with autism covers studies ranging from the challenges and possibilities of teaching reading skills to students with autism, to communication interventions for minimally verbal children with autism. Because teachers often encounter stakeholders interested in non-evidence based, therapeutic, or biomedical treatments, ASAT addresses issues like the persistence of fad interventions such as facilitated communication, the lack of evidence supporting the rapid prompting method, and the results of a controlled trial regarding hyperbaric treatment for children with autism. Find the full gamut of research synopses available here.

Clinical Corner

Clinical Corner provides responses to frequently asked questions about autism treatment. This is a particularly content-rich area of the ASAT website which spans many critical issues related to teaching, such as use of reinforcement, effective interventions, behavior management, and issues impacting families. Examples of specific questions answered are related to topics such as the importance of early diagnosis, setting up an evidence-based program, and teaching children social skills. Questions posed by teachers working in the field are included within this section. Some of these cover subjects including, but not limited to, teaching WH questions, preparing students for fuller inclusion, and safety skills. See the full array of our Clinical Corner installments here.

Book and Resource Reviews

On our website you will find reviews of several useful books related to teaching and behavior management. In addition, you will find summaries of some available resources listed below topically. Many of these reviews are for books and resources that are available free of charge.
Autism Educational and Treatment Considerations

Early Intervention

Parenting and Family Resources

Skill Acquisition

Behavioral Intervention


Media Watch

ASAT’s Media Watch monitors mainstream media to identify published information about autism and autism treatments. Understanding that every media contribution has the potential to reach thousands of consumers and service providers, we support accurate media depictions of empirically-sound interventions. We also respond to inaccurate information about proposed treatments reported and, at times, promulgated by news outlets. You can review our 200+ published letters. Many of our letters focus on topics related to schools and teacher preparation. We have compiled a list of a few dozen letters written over the last 10 years that teachers may find interesting. These are organized topically below:

Early Intervention

Supporting Students

Family Experiences



Community Opportunities and Needs

Transition Concerns from School to Adulthood

Please take a moment to explore other sections of our dedicated pages for teachers including our topical list of resources.

Citation for this article:

Celiberti, D. A., Evoy, K., Cummins, S, & McKenna, K. (2021). How ASAT supports special education and regular education teachers. Science in Autism Treatment, 18(5).

About The Authors

David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, is the Executive Director of ASAT and Past-President, a role he served from 2006 to 2012. He is the Editor of ASAT’s monthly publication, Science in Autism Treatment. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 1993 and his certification in behavior analysis in 2000. Dr. Celiberti has served on a number of advisory boards and special interest groups in the field of autism, applied behavior analysis (ABA), and early childhood education. He works in private practice and provides consultation to public and private schools and agencies in underserved areas. He has authored several articles in professional journals and presents frequently at regional, national, and international conferences. In prior positions, Dr. Celiberti taught courses related to ABA at both undergraduate and graduate levels, supervised individuals pursuing BCBA certifications, and conducted research in the areas of ABA, family intervention, and autism.
Kaitlyn Evoy, BA is a special education teacher with a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education, and she holds a Learning Behavior Specialist-1 Certification in Illinois. She obtained her Bachelor's degree from Lewis University in 2014, and she is currently studying Autism and Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders at Johns Hopkins University. Kaitlyn is drawn towards the study of evidence-based practices and their execution in classroom environments. She is an Extern at the Association of Science in Autism Treatment focusing on dissemination to teachers and other educational support staff. 
Sarah Cummins, MA, BCBA is a special education teacher and BCBA with a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education and a Masters's degree in Special Education with a Concentration in Applied Behavior Analysis. She obtained both her Bachelor's degree and Master's degree from Seton Hall University in 2016 and 2020 respectively.  Sarah currently works as a teacher in a self-contained public special education classroom with students between the grades of K and 2 as well as a BCBA in the private sector.  Sarah has experience in developing content for ASAT's social media account, as well as material geared toward teachers and teaching staff. She has been an Extern at the Association of Science in Autism Treatment since May of 2020. 
Kate McKenna, MEd, MSEd, BCBA, LBA, received a Masters in Child Study from the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study at Tufts University and a Masters in Special Education from Pace University.  In addition to New York state certifications in general and special education from Birth to Grade 2 and Grades 1-6, she holds a New York State Annotated Certification in Severe/Multiple Disabilities. Kate is currently completing a Masters degree in ABA from Hunter College. She was an extern at the Association for Science in Autism Treatment before joining the Board of Directors in 2020.