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USM Launches New Autism Therapy Degree Program as a Result of Special Needs Bill Passing

JACKSON, Miss.- The University of Southern Mississippi is launching a new master’s degree program, Applied Behavior Analysis, also known as ABA therapy, as a result of the special needs bill signed into law March 26.

Gov. Phil Bryant, along with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and USM President Rodney D. Bennette announced the launch of an emphasis area in Applied Behavior Analysis in its psychology master’s degree program Wednesday.

The measure was championed by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and requires insurance plans to provide coverage for autism treatment, including ABA therapy.

“House Bill 885 will provide much needed coverage and resources to families in Mississippi who are working through the challenges of autism, and I was proud to sign the bill into law,” Gov. Bryant said in a press release. “The therapy and treatment that many autistic children in Mississippi will now be able to receive for the first time will be life-changing. I commend the University of Southern Mississippi for leading the effort to develop the academic programs Mississippi needs to have in place to train its own autism therapy workforce.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 1 in 68 children in the United States has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“Autism is an epidemic affecting 1 out of every 68 newborns,” Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said.  “This legislation gives hope for the future to parents, and most importantly—their children.”

USM is in the final stages of approval to modify a master’s degree program in psychology to offer an emphasis in ABA therapy. The program has already received curriculum approval from the national Behavior Analyst Certification Board and is planned to admit students this fall. Graduates of the program will meet coursework eligibility requirements to sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst licensing exam.

Demand for licensed ABA therapists is expected to grow as a result of House Bill 885, and USM’s planned program aims to help build the state’s workforce of qualified ABA therapists.

“The University of Southern Mississippi looks forward to continuing our legacy of providing high-quality psychology education and research programs through the planned launch of a new master’s program emphasis area in Applied Behavior Analysis,” USM President Rodney D. Bennett said. “As the demand for ABA therapy grows, we will work as hard as we can to train a new generation of students in this critical area of autism treatment.”

House Bill 885 requires insurance plans in Mississippi to cover evidence-based treatment for autism, including ABA therapy, beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

The bill also establishes the Mississippi Autism Board to regulate and license ABA therapists in the state.

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