Project ASD: Special Educator Preparation in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Note: April is National Autism Awareness Month.

Supporting Children and Youth with Autism

April is Autism Awareness Month, and a perfect time to highlight the OSEP-funded Project Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Since 2004, this innovative personnel preparation project has been addressing the critical need for special educators prepared to serve the increasing numbers of children identified with ASD. A nationwide listing of teacher shortage areas revealed 48 states reporting shortages of special education teachers for the 2016–17 school year, with many states identifying the specific need for special educators prepared to serve students with autism.

What is Project ASD?

Two federal personnel development projects currently support Project ASD at UCF, projects ASD IV, funded 2014–18, and ASD V, funded 2016–20.They represent the culmination of over a decade of research focused on teacher preparation in ASD. Project ASD’s graduate program addresses persistent gaps in services, including the need to (a) increase the number of highly effective special educators serving students with ASD, and (b) prepare special educators with specialized knowledge and competencies for working with students with ASD. Project ASD addresses identified gaps by implementing three primary goals:

  1. Recruit high-quality graduate-level scholars including traditionally underrepresented groups with potential to become highly effective special educators for students with ASD.
  2. Prepare scholars in an evidence-based special education program that includes field experiences in urban, high-poverty settings, and leads to state certification in Exceptional Student Education (ESE) and endorsement in ASD.
  3. Retain scholars through completion of the program and induction into the profession through ongoing advisement, financial and academic support, and mentorship.

Master’s Degree and Certification in ESE and ASD

Project ASD has supported over 300 scholars in earning a master’s degree and full certification in ESE, and State Endorsement in Autism. The success of the project can be attributed to ongoing collaboration between university faculty, school district personnel, agencies, and families. Project ASD employs a multi-faceted recruitment model targeting exceptional scholars dedicated to the field of special education, including those from traditionally underrepresented groups. Scholars receive support to complete a graduate program of study, which prepares them to implement evidence-based practices for students with ASD to increase student achievement across domains including academic, communication, social-emotional, independent functioning, and vocational. Project ASD also hosts a Mentor Demonstration Classroom program that features project graduates who understand the challenges of the master’s program, and the unique needs of beginning special educators in classrooms for students with ASD. These exemplary teachers provide video demonstrations, serve as guest speakers, and open their classrooms to provide Project ASD scholars with opportunities to integrate coursework and field experience.

In addition to its close work with scholars at UCF, Project ASD disseminates information related to teacher preparation in ASD through publications as well as numerous presentations at state and national conferences. Teacher Education and Special Education recently published an article featuring Project ASD’s Quality Indicators for Classrooms Serving Students With ASD instrument. For further information, visit the Project ASD website, or contact the project directors at

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Eleazar Vasquez III, Director and Associate Professor for the Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute
Posted by
Director and Associate Professor for the Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute
Cynthia Pearl
Posted by
Faculty Administrator in the Exceptional Education Program
Matthew T. Marino, Professor in the Exceptional Education Program
Posted by
Professor in the Exceptional Education Program


  1. Being a new teacher, with three years under my belt before entering this program, I thought I knew quite a lot about teaching students with disabilities, especially those with Autism. Having almost completed my program of study with a Masters Degree in ESE and State Endorsement in ASD, I now realize that I knew a little about many aspects of teaching special education. Project ASD has filled the gaps that I did not know where there. I can’t thank you enough for this opportunity and hope to bay back for my years to come teaching children with special needs.

  2. Hats off to those who have created this program! I am in my last year and have learned effective, practical and proven methods to support students with special needs. I’ve shared much with our PBIS team and colleagues at our middle school, and our entire school is benefiting. Thank you!

  3. Proud to be a graduate! This program providing invaluable learning opportunities and mentorships through my education and career in the field!

  4. Kudos! As a graduate of Project ASD and now a teacher educator in personnel preparation in special education (six years), I can testify that participation in this program was key to my career success. The advising and mentorship that I received was invaluable. Financial support also made a HUGE difference. I would not have been able to afford to continue my education without Project ASD. Thank you for such awesome work!

  5. Over 300 hundred scholars! I am so proud to have been a part of this amazing project. Project ASD provides teachers with the evidence based practices they need to teach students with ASD. Through these teachers, this project has impacted the lives of thousands of children and families living with ASD. Bravo, Project ASD!

  6. Project ASD is an outstanding program preparing teachers for outstanding futures serving students with Autism Spectrum Disorders!

  7. Project ASD is an amazing program. I am proud to have been a part of Project ASD, if even for a short amount of time. Congratulations.

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