New Special Education Degree Focuses on Applied Behavior Analysis

Graduates will be equipped to help children with autism and other disorders

Denise A. Soares, a UM associate professor of special education, coordinates the university’s new master’s degree program in applied behavior analysis. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Amid a growing demand for applied behavior analysis practitioners and teachers in Mississippi, the University of Mississippi School of Education is launching a new master’s degree program to help fill the need.

“Development of the new program is critical for the children of Mississippi,” said David Rock, UM education dean.

“This program will allow UM to prepare highly qualified professionals to meet the needs of children with autism and plan treatment and early intervention at a young age. There simply are not enough licensed board-certified behavior analysts in our state to meet the need.”

The new program will help get qualified professionals into schools quickly, said Denise A. Soares, associate professor of special education and the program’s coordinator.

“There is an ever-growing need for board-certified behavior analysts in Mississippi,” Soares said. “Our program is unique because it is in the education department. We are focused on teachers and behavior specialists who can learn the skills and implement the practices in classrooms.”

Kayla Crook

Kayla Crook, a board-certified behavior analyst with five years’ experience in clinical, school and supervisory settings, is the program faculty. Crook received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Tennessee, a master’s degree in behavior analysis therapy from Southern Illinois University and her doctorate in special education with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis from the University of Georgia.

“I am beyond excited and proud to begin this program here at Ole Miss,” Crook said. “I am looking forward to bringing ABA (applied behavior analysis) and behavioral principles to not only our teachers here in Mississippi, but also teachers across the nation.

“These courses will give new and veteran teachers alike the skills to implement ABA practices and procedures in their classrooms that will greatly impact students both behaviorally and academically.”

The program is designed to prepare educators and human services professionals for careers in a variety of education, clinic, community and business settings. Career opportunities include jobs as a behavior teacher, behavior specialist, ABA training coordinator, registered behavior technician and clinical supervisor.

Classes are based on the task list developed by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board Inc. The Association for Behavior Analysis International has verified the coursework requirements for eligibility to take the Board-Certified Behavior Analyst or Board-Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst examination.

“Our program is a blended program, with synchronous web-based and hybrid course delivery, with no residency requirement,” Soares said. “Join the new cohort, which begins in spring 2021. Applications are currently being accepted through Nov. 1.”

Soares encourages all teachers to consider this master’s degree program. 

“In just two years, students will have the chance to gain critical skills and the fundamental knowledge to develop, implement and evaluate valuable techniques that help produce positive behavioral change in individuals with special needs,” she said. “Teachers will make the real difference.”

Parker Lifeshare Foundation, of Jackson, provided an initial gift of $470,000 to support the program’s development and the hiring of a board-certified faculty member.

Click here for more information about the Master of Special Education ABA degree program.