University of Arizona College of Nursing Launches Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder Certificate Program

April 30, 2020

On April 6, 2020, the University of Arizona College of Nursing inaugurated an additional career track, The Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) certificate program. The track, enabled by a grant from Arizona Complete Health, is one of the first programs in the country to prepare pediatric nurse practitioners, psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners and general practice pediatricians to address the increasing health care challenge of autism.

The prevalence of ASD is growing rapidly, affecting one in every 59 children in the U.S and one in 71 children in Arizona. Although ASD can be diagnosed as early as two years of age, in Arizona, the median age of diagnosis by a community provider is 4 years and 8 months of age.

The ASD track will help address the dearth of clinicians in Arizona empowered to make the diagnosis of autism. “The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier it’s service,” said Gloanna Peek, PhD, RN, CPNP, ASD program coordinator and Arizona Nursing clinical associate professor. “One of the most important things about our program is that the didactic component is online. We can recruit clinicians in rural communities with fewer services and greater need. It’s unique; UArizona is the first university to offer an ASD Certificate to Clinicians.”

"This unique program will prepare qualified practitioners to address the increasing health care challenge of autism spectrum disorder," ~ Ki Moore, PhD, RN, FAAN, Dean, UArizona Nursing

Training more clinicians to address the rise in ASD’s prevalence is pivotal because ASD must be diagnosed prior to age 4 for families to receive full access to state services across the nation. The short-term result of this program will be improved access to healthcare services for children diagnosed with ASD.

The goal of the interdisciplinary program is to prepare pediatric clinicians with the skills necessary to  diagnose and manage autism. The first cohort of six students will graduate in August, 2020, and is comprised of five NPs and one MD.  The first cohort of six students for this program began August 26, 2019. 

"This unique program will prepare qualified practitioners to address the increasing health care challenge of autism spectrum disorder," said University of Arizona Nursing Dean Ki Moore, PhD, RN, FAAN. "Dr. Gloanna Peek and her team have developed an outstanding curriculum.  I am most grateful to Drs. Sydney Rice and David Harvey for their mentorship, and to Arizona Complete Health for the financial support that allowed us to develop the program."

The three-semester online program is designed for clinicians seeking a post graduate certificate in Diagnosis and Management of Autism Spectrum Disorder in pediatrics. Students will complete 12 credit hours total over three semesters (Fall, Spring and Summer). Each semester students are required to complete 180 clinical hours and take one graduate level didactic course covering such subjects as Autism Spectrum Disorder Screening and Assessment, Health and Behavioral Care Planning and Intervention for Children and Adolescents, and Leadership and Advocacy for ASD. Supervision for the practicum hours will be provided by preceptors at approved clinical sites and clinically supervised by faculty.

The expansive clinical hours will enable students to rigorously prepare for addressing ASD. “Students will be in an approved clinical site, which means they have to be in a site where they’re diagnosing and managing autism,” said Dr. Peek. “Members of our first cohort are actually working with children who have been diagnosed with autism. These clinicians will now have expanded knowledge, skills and training to improve their diagnostic and management capacities. They’re receiving specific training to diagnose and provide comprehensive care for patients with ASD.”

In addition to leaders from Arizona Complete Health, Dr. Peek collaborated with Sydney Rice, MD, professor of pediatrics in the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson, to design and implement the curriculum and this certificate program. Dr. David Harvey, principal consultant, Vantage Point Behavioral Services, has also been instrumental in the design and implementation of the new program.

“The average age of diagnosis of a child with ASD in Arizona lags behind the national average by about one year,” said Scott Van Valkenburg, MD, Arizona Complete Health Chief Medical Director. “Funding this program through the College of Nursing is critical to developing a pipeline of qualified health care providers that can lower the age of diagnosis for ASD, which allows us to start treatment sooner. Starting treatment sooner yields better outcomes and a greater quality of life for that individual.”

If the program is demonstrably successful in Arizona, it could expand to a national stage. “I’ve been a pediatric nurse practitioner for a really long time and there’s a lot of need here,” said Dr. Peek. “There are many kids that are not being diagnosed, which means they and their families are not receiving the necessary services. I think the ASD ceritificate will really improve access to care for patients and families, and I think it could definitely grow based on the interest that’s out there.”

For more information about UArizona Nursing’s Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) certificate program visit