According to the American Psychiatric Association, autism is a disorder that is characterized by impaired abilities in communication and social interaction caused by diminished neural development. A child who has autism may exhibit repetitive and restricted social behavior as a toddler.
According to Claire St. Peter Pipkin, coordinator of the Behavior Analysis for Teachers program, behavior analysts' methods are proven to help autistic children with their ability to communicate as well as with their behavior. But there are only nine practicing behavior analysts throughout the state.
Pipkin saw a need for the program after working with the Monongalia County school system for four years.
"Many teachers reported that there was no training of this kind available and it was often a problem," said Pipkin.
The program began last summer. Eight teachers from Monongalia County applied for the program and were chosen by the county's school board. All of the participants in the program are Special Education teachers.
The participants are required to take five graduate level courses as well as complete 750 hours of work in the classroom. An advisor goes to the teachers' classes to ensure they are implementing what they learned appropriately.
The program currently takes place at Mountainview Elementary in Monongalia County.
The Behavior Analysis for Teachers program is instructing teachers in important aspects of teaching children with Autism and social disorders.
Pipkin said that behavior analysis takes a nontraditional approach to teaching.
"Behavior analysis asks "what can I change about this environment to make students react better?" and how to structure it for students who are atypical such as those in Special Ed," said Pipkin.
The new training program aims to increase the number of qualified teachers who can work with children who have autism. West Virginia lags behind neighboring states in the number of trained professionals.
Ohio has 69 certified behavior analysts and Pennsylvania has 479, compared to West Virginia’s nine practicing behavior analysts.
The lack of support for families throughout the state is problematic and forces them to look elsewhere for help, including having to move to surrounding states in order to find the help they cannot find here.
Pipkin explained that this is why WVU's program is so important. The first batch of graduates will nearly double the amount of practicing behavior analysts in the state.
"Our teachers are very dedicated," said Pipkin. "They only had three days off all summer."
This program is also beneficial to the state in that the teachers who make it through the program end up spreading their knowledge to other teachers. Recently the teachers in the program taught all pre-kindergarten teachers in the county some of the tactics they have learned through the program.
Pipkin explained that having the participants move on and spread the knowledge they have gained from the program is a very important part of the process. She said that because they are teachers, it is easier for them to relate and answer questions other teachers may have.
The first group of teachers will graduate from the program this summer.
Ryan Tegeder is a West Virginia University School of Journalism student. He filed this report as part of West Virginia Public Broadcasting's partnership with WVU.