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Saint Mary’s introduces master of autism studies program

| Friday, September 28, 2018

As of next fall, Saint Mary’s is officially ready to make available to students new programs in the master of autism studies program. For right now, there are two basic dual degree programs planned for the future curriculums, professor Michael Waddell, director of the master of autism studies program and a professor of philosophy at Saint Mary’s, said.  

“The first one is our dual master’s degree program where you earn the master’s of autism studies and the master’s of science and speech language pathology,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Michael Waddell

The master in autism studies program hosts a PEERS workshop in April. MAS will offer two different degrees:  a dual degree and a 4+1 program, which allows students to begin their studies while pursuing a bachelor‘s degree.

Waddell said this program allows students to get hands-on experience in their field.

“It creates extra opportunities for working in clinical settings with people on the spectrum,” he said. “So you get the course work you need to become a licensed and certified speech therapist, you get expertise in autism and you get more opportunities to work with people of the spectrum than you would if you did either degree separately.”

The second degree program is titled the 4+1 program. The program organizes classes so that students can take four of the 12 required courses towards attaining their master’s degree by the time they receive their bachelor’s degree. 

The approval process for this program has been multi layered and in the long time making, Waddell said.

“The first proposal we wrote was in the spring of 2011,” he said. “We got approval from the higher learning commission in the fall of 2017 and the board of trustees approved the program in spring of 2017. So from 2011 all the way to the fall of 2017 has been one whole long approval process.”

These programs are a rare opportunity and designed specifically to give students specific expertise in working with people with autism, Waddell said.

“The two professions that most commonly work with people on the spectrum are speech language pathologist and applied behavioral analysts,” he said. “To become a speech therapist you do a master’s degree in speech therapy where you study the whole range of speech disorders and interventions and so forth, but most speech language pathology programs don’t have any autism components in them. You’re lucky if your school has one autism course. … Most speech therapists now are spending most if not all of their time in clinic working with people in the spectrum but they don’t get any training in autism.”

Certain majors pair well with the program, but it is open to students from any disciplinary background, Waddell said.

“Some obvious candidates for this program would be those in education, psychology, speech language pathology, pre med and potentially nursing, social work and sociology,” he said.  

Students interested in the master of autism studies programs can find more information at events such as the autism workshops and colloquiums hosted by Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame. Finding success in the past, two more workshops are planned for this year, Waddell said.  

“Either seek me out, and if I’m not the right person I’ll put you in contact with the faculty member you should talk to or come to any of the events that we’re sponsoring,” he said.

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