By Patricia S. Phelan, Esq.

The good news is that The State Education Department of The University of the State of New York in Albany [“State Ed”] has just released a memorandum which proposes to amend the current inadequate and vague NYS law regarding required training for candidates seeking certification as a special education teacher.

The memorandum also logically recommends the establishment of standards for approved providers of the training.

Moreover, the memorandum recommends a comprehensive curriculum for the recommended training.  Among other topics relating to ASDs, this training is recommended to include education in socialization skills, communication and skill generalization, functional behavior assessments and behavior intervention plans, collaboration and cooperation in the home, class, school and community and family supports.

I am thrilled to see these crucial targeted areas included in the proposed curriculum of study.  My experience as a special education attorney has included these areas amongst those which present some of the greatest challenges for children with ASDs.  Enlightenment on these issues by the special educators working with our children with disabilities can only be a help to all involved. Some other beneficial recommendations in the memorandum include:

  • Local education agencies [“LEA”] should select at least one person from their school to be the district’s ASD resource for information training – – as I call, the “go to” person;
  • LEAs should designate some professional development specifically on serving children with ASDs;
  • Veteran special education teachers and school administrators working in special education should get training in ASDs;
  • An Autism link should be placed on the State Ed’s web site directing families and school personnel to available resources in autism, including (but not limited to) the Autism Program Quality Indicators, VESID services, and where to go for certain services; and
  • Future consideration of amendments requiring preparation in the development of collaboration models for all teacher preparation programs.

Now, for the bad news…  While State Ed is proposing a number of wonderful concepts, the proposed requirement for a certificate or license to teach students with disabilities will require as little as “two clock hours of coursework or training in autism or autism spectrum disorders….”  TWO hours?

Note that existing regulations currently require teacher candidates to generally complete coursework in the area of ASDs and be prepared to teach a range of students with disabilities, including those with ASDs – – there is no minimum training time.

It is also bad news that these guidelines require training only for those studying to be teachers.  It does not require training of pre-existing special education teachers. Well, I guess this is a start.  As my husband says, “You need to walk before you can run!”

Although they did not ask me…my recommendation to State Ed would include the following:  Required reading for all candidates in training to teach students with disabilities, should be the book Autism in your Classroom, By  Deborah Fein, Ph.D. and Michelle Dunn, Ph.D.

In fact, this book would be a priceless resource for any parents advocating for children with ASDs.  It should also be required reading for any current teacher, therapist, administrator or other educator working with children with ASDs.

The first part of Autism in your Classroom, is entitled “What You Need to Know about Autism Spectrum Disorders”.  This introduces the reader to important facts about ASDs, including a description of the disorder, possible causes, and potential treatments.

The second part of the book, entitled “The Student in your Classroom”, guides the reader through strategies and how to intervene on behalf of a child with an ASD.  It also includes an invaluable Frequently Asked Questions section.

Reading this book will enable all of its readers, and particularly those training to be special education teachers, to efficiently and with nominal cost obtain a wonderful foundation in ASDs.  Maybe then, our educators-in-training will be able to benefit from the intense, 2 hour minimum curriculum proposed by State Ed. Speaking as a parent of a child with an ASD, I believe this would be invaluable.

Patricia S. Phelan runs The Law Office of Patricia S. Phelan – a practice dedicated exclusively to the field of special education law and advocacy.  Ms. Phelan has been practicing law for eighteen years and is an experienced litigator as well as a parent of a child with a disability.  For guidance about your child’s rights under the law, please contact Ms. Phelan by email at or telephone at 914-629-4707.  For more information about The Law Office of Patricia S. Phelan, go to