PCC Adding Course for Individuals Who Work with Children Who Have Autism

PCC cupola set against blue sky with colorful autism awareness logo and PCC Bulldog graphic.

WINTERVILLE—Pitt Community College is set to become the first North Carolina community college to provide training specifically designed for individuals who work with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Starting with the 2021 Spring Semester, PCC will offer “EDU 149: Autism Technical Concepts” in partnership with Aces for Autism, a non-profit ministry established in 2014 to serve eastern North Carolinians impacted by autism. The three-credit course centers on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a common therapeutic model used to teach new skills and minimize certain behaviors in persons with ASD.

“At Pitt Community College, a big part of our job is workforce development,” said Melissa Rees, chair of PCC’s Early Childhood Education Department. “I feel strongly that our new ‘Autism Technical Concepts’ course will be a perfect complement to the Early Childhood program and provide our students with more marketable skills and employment options.”

For Rees, seeing “EDU 149” on the spring schedule marks the culmination of a yearlong effort that required extensive research, writing, editing and presentations to get the course officially approved by the N.C. Community College System (NCCCS).

“It’s been a labor of love, from a little wish to having it finally approved by the NCCCS office and then added to the schedule at PCC,” she said. “My sweet nephew, Archie, has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and I know from my family’s experiences the frequent difficulty in access to high-quality interventions. Most people I know love someone diagnosed with ASD and are seeking the best services possible.”

Though there is no cure for autism, which is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in communication and social interactions, treatment of its symptoms often entails intensive behavior interventions, such as ABA, combined with speech, physical and occupational therapies. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the prevalence rate of autism in North Carolina is now 1 in 58 children, a 17 percent increase since 2012.

“We contacted various autism treatment centers in eastern North Carolina and heard again and again how hard it was to identify trained and qualified employees,” Rees said. “With the high rate of diagnosis in our state, it is inevitable that our students will work with children with ASD, and they need to be prepared.”

Students who enroll in EDU 149 this spring will meet virtually once a week and also fulfill weekly practical requirements at Greenville’s Aces for Autism Center. Rees said students who successfully complete the course can sit for the Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) Exam, a nationally recognized paraprofessional certification in behavior analysis.

Rees says there are many job openings in North Carolina and across the nation for individuals who have associate degrees in Early Childhood Education and/or RBT certificates. She added that salaries range from $12 to $24 per hour.

“I would recommend EDU 149 to anyone interested in working with children with ASD,” Rees said. “I can envision current Early Childhood students taking it as an elective, as well as professionals from a variety of fields—teachers, teacher assistants and psychologists, to name just a few—adding the class to build their resumes. It would also be ideal for parents of children with ASD, to help them ensure intervention strategies are practiced as often as possible.”

In addition to being an elective for students pursuing an associate degree in Early Childhood Education, Rees says “Autism Technical Concepts” is part of a new Autism Certificate at PCC comprised of five courses that total 16 credit hours.