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5 Courses in an Autism Master’s Program

Autism Master’s Degree Program Courses

Autism Master's Degree Program CoursesIf you’re interested in pursuing a Master’s degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders, you might be in the initial research stage—discovering what programs are available around you or that are offered online, applying for multiple programs, and understanding which courses you will need to graduate. 

Not every school or Master’s program is the same, although there are similar course requirements depending on the state’s guidelines and such. As you search, you may notice one program offering a course titled one thing then come upon another program that offers a similar course but titled differently. This is typical—however, the content in which those courses cover will be similar to other programs, as there are “must-haves” to graduate with a Master’s in ASD.

Related resource: Top 25 Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Online

Courses in a Master’s program in Autism Spectrum Disorders are designed to prepare students for a broad range of exciting careers including positions as behavior specialists, autism spectrum disorder specialists, interventionists, and child advocates. In addition to a variety of general education coursework, students will be required to complete several career-related courses as well. 

Note that these courses do not solely benefit those seeking a Master’s degree. They are  designed for and benefit anyone working with ASD individuals including general education teachers, special education teachers, related service providers, paraprofessionals, administrators, family members, and other service providers who serve students with ASD in the educational setting, as well as those who work in a clinical setting. 

Five of these essential courses for an Autism Master’s Degree can be found described briefly in the following sections:

  • Foundations in Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Policies and Ethics in Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Methods and Assessments for Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Communication Strategies and Assistive Technologies for Autistic Patients

1. Foundations in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Foundations in Autism Spectrum DisordersOne of the most basic courses in a Master’s program for Autism Spectrum Disorders is known as Foundations in Autism Spectrum Disorders. This course is a prerequisite to many of the other courses required for an autism program and prepares students for more advanced studies. 

The main topics of Foundations in Autism Spectrum Disorders include theoretical foundations of ASDs, assessments of autistic persons, determining the eligibility of autistic persons for special needs programs, diagnosis of autistic clients, and the exceptional needs of persons with autism.

The VCU Autism Center for Excellence offers this course as part of their program and they list the learning objectives, which are as follows:

Upon completion of this course, the participant will be able to:

  1. Describe the history and causes of ASD
  2. Discuss the primary and secondary characteristics of ASD
  3. Discuss the secondary characteristics of ASD
  4. Describe the common comorbidities
  5. Describe interests and strengths of individuals with ASD
  6. Discuss services and supports available across the lifespan
  7. Discuss what ASD looks like across the lifespan

Think of this course as the training wheels to a bike. The information learned in Foundations in Autism Spectrum Disorders will provide a solid foundation of ASD knowledge to ensure success in the other more comprehensive courses. 

2. Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Board Certified Behavior AnalystAnother course that is typically required to earn an autism Master’s degree is Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism Spectrum Disorders. The main goal of this course is to provide students with knowledge and skills in behavior analysis with a special focus on working with individuals with autism. 

During this course, students will explore such topics as assessing clients’ needs, common tools used in interventions, intervention methods, evaluating and choosing appropriate intervention strategies, and monitoring client progress.

Applied behavior analysis is a cornerstone of working with individuals with autism. Those who go into this field will use ABA strategies every day. The course Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism Spectrum Disorders is such a critical experience each Master’s student must have.

Those who take a certain amount of courses in applied behavior analysis can also look into becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst later on if they wish. 

3. Policies and Ethics in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Policies and Ethics in Autism Spectrum DisordersProfessionals who choose to work with individuals with autism must adhere to certain policies and ethical behavior as set by such organizations as the American Autism Society. Policies and Ethics in Autism Spectrum Disorders is a required course in autism degree programs that examines these issues. 

Specific areas of study in this class include ethical practices and legal policies associated with autistic clients, current trends in autistic treatments and procedures, creating and implementing individualized treatment plans, and advocacy for clients with autism.

The Council for Exceptional Children lists the following ethical principles that are expected of professionals who work with children and students with disabilities: 

  1. Maintaining challenging expectations for individuals with exceptionalities to develop the highest possible learning outcomes and quality of life potential in ways that respect their dignity, culture, language, and background.
  2. Maintaining a high level of professional competence and integrity and exercising professional judgment to benefit individuals with exceptionalities and their families.
  3. Promoting meaningful and inclusive participation of individuals with exceptionalities in their schools and communities.
  4. Practicing collegially with others who are providing services to individuals with exceptionalities.
  5. Developing relationships with families based on mutual respect and actively involving families and individuals with exceptionalities in educational decision-making.
  6. Using evidence, instructional data, research, and professional knowledge to inform practice.
  7. Protecting and supporting the physical and psychological safety of individuals with exceptionalities.
  8. Neither engaging in nor tolerating any practice that harms individuals with exceptionalities.
  9. Practicing within the professional ethics, standards, and policies of CEC; upholding laws, regulations, and policies that influence professional practice; and advocating improvements in the laws, regulations, and policies.
  10. Advocating for professional conditions and resources that will improve learning outcomes of individuals with exceptionalities.
  11. Engaging in the improvement of the profession through active participation in professional organizations.
  12. Participating in the growth and dissemination of professional knowledge and skills.

When working with children, parents, teachers, and other individuals, it is important that professionals are aware of laws, regulations, and ethical practices in the state, county, and school in which they are at. However, most ethical principles can be seen as common sense. 

The Master’s course Policies and Ethics in Autism Spectrum Disorders will make students aware of various situations in which they will have to make sound ethical judgments. 

4. Methods and Assessments for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Methods and Assessments for Autism Spectrum Disorders is another course in an autism Master’s degree program that is required for all students and is invaluable. 

Efficient assessments are crucial for the development of proper ASD treatment plans. Students who are enrolled in this course will learn how to assess any individual with autism and determine the best methods of treatment based on each client’s unique needs. Special focus is given to treatment planning, assessment analysis, intervention strategies, and methods of adaptation.

5. Communication Strategies and Assistive Technologies for Autistic Patients

Effective communication methods are essential when working with children and adults with autism, as many of these individuals have deficits in communication, as well as communicate more successfully using assistive technology. 

Communication Strategies and Assistive Technologies for Autistic Patients provide students with these all-important skills. While the name of this course may vary from one school to the next, it is included in all autism Master’s programs. 

Here is a brief course description from Grand Canyon University, which offers a Master’s program in ASD.

This course explores functional communication training and specific strategies to promote effective communication behaviors or skills of students with ASD. In addition, ASD specialist candidates survey assistive technology in relation to enhancing communication of students with autism spectrum disorders.

Examples of the topics covered in this course include effective ASD communication strategies, understanding the communication behavior of ASD clients, and using assistive technology to enhance communication with autistic clients.

Conclusion to Autism Master’s Degree Program Courses

Students majoring in autism spectrum disorders will need to complete a broad range of general education and career-related courses to fulfill the requirements of their programs. While there are several career-related courses in an autism Master’s program, the five courses discussed above are among the most common and will set students up for success in the future. 

Brittany Cerny

Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University

Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University

Updated July 2021

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