TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senators Loretta Weinberg and Ellen Karcher which would make training in autism awareness a condition for teacher certification was unanimously approved today by the Senate Education Committee.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that New Jersey has the highest autism rates in the nation, and as the population increases, so will the number of autism cases,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “In today’s society, teachers must be able to deal with the different issues and needs children have, and this legislation would help further prepare them to educate today’s youth.”
“Autism rates are steadily increasing throughout the country and it’s important that our teachers are better equipped to detect the warning signs and effectively instruct students with this disability,” said Senator Karcher, D-Mercer and Monmouth. “Incorporating autism awareness into New Jersey’s teaching certificate curriculum will provide early intervention and structured programs that will greatly improve the quality of life for those with autism.”
The Senators’ measure, S-2558, would call upon the Commissioner of Education to work with the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services and autism education groups to develop coursework dealing with the characteristics and needs of autistic students. The coursework would be included in the curriculums of every college or university offering teacher or paraprofessional certification.
The coursework would include instruction in curriculum planning and inclusive education to allow autistic students to remain in mainstream classes, whenever possible, Senator Weinberg said.
“This legislation is about helping special needs children to be fully able to participate in society whenever possible,” Senator Weinberg said. “If these children are able to be taught in a regular classroom, it only makes sense to keep them with their peers.
If approved, the bill would take effect for the 2008-2009 school year.
Under State law, paraprofessionals are required to have a high school diploma, and they are encouraged to pursue an Associate’s degree or obtain Child Development Associate or Certified Childcare Professional certification.
This legislation now heads to the full Senate for approval.