The U.S. Department of Education has awarded California State University, Northridge nearly $1 million for a new, collaborative project designed to bridge the professional divide between special education teachers and behavior analysts that work with young children with disabilities with high-intensity needs.
The $907,584 five-year grant from the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education has been awarded to the Early Childhood Special Education Program in CSUN’s Department of Special Education and the Applied Behavior Analysis Program in CSUN’s Department of Psychology.
“It’s understood that the sooner parents can get support for their children with high-intensity needs the more likely it is that those children will make better progress,” said special education professor Zhen Chai, who is heading the project with psychology professor Tara Fahmie. “What we are talking about is launching an interdisciplinary collaborative training program in which people who provide support to very young children — early childhood special education educators and behavior analysts — can truly work together for the best of the children and their families.
“Professionals who work in these fields are so busy and focused on what they are doing that the overall support for the child can appear disjointed,” Chai continued. “But if they have a shared understanding of each other’s profession, then the support the children and their families get will be better.”
“The Bridge Project: Bringing Early Childhood Special Educators and Behavior Interventionists Together Through Interdisciplinary Evidence-Based Preparation to Serve Young Children with High Intensity Needs” will focus on addressing the critical shortage of highly qualified professionals prepared to work with infants, toddlers and young children with high-intensity needs and their families. The project would provide masters-level training to behavior analysts and early children special educators. The training will focus on supporting the participation of young children with high-intensity needs in inclusive settings and natural environments.
The project will provide joint coursework — from the early childhood special education and the applied behavior analysis programs — in multi-tiered systems of behavioral interventions and education supports, family-centered practices and specific, evidence-based practices consistent with the standards in both programs.
Chai said the federal grant provides financial support — including stipends, travel and technology support — for 30 scholars over the next five years. The money also helps lay the foundation for what she and Fahmie hope will be an ongoing program that trains early childhood special education educators and behavior analysts to work with young children with high-intensity needs.
The goal, Fahmie said, is to create a shared understanding and an inclusive, collaborative environment in which the professionals involved comfortably work together to ensure the children they work with receive high quality services.
“For too long, professionals in both fields have worked alongside each other without really knowing what the other does,” Fahmie said. “If we can create a shared language and perspective — an understanding of the roles that each profession plays in the child’s the development — it’s better for the child, the parents, and everyone else involved.”
Chai and Fahmie said the new, collaborative environment could lead to creative, more nuanced approaches as the special education educators and behavior analysts work with the young children and their families.
The professors pointed out that the additional training also will make those who go through the program more marketable.
The program’s first 10-student cohort is expected to begin in the summer of 2020.