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Titan’s Autism Research Focuses on Access, Inclusive Classrooms

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Following a career teaching special education in Orange County elementary schools and working as an autism specialist, Cal State Fullerton alumna Aja McKee returns to campus this fall as an assistant professor of special education.

She previously worked as a program specialist in special education for the Irvine Unified School District and as an educational consultant for Chapman University’s Thompson Policy Institute on Disability and Autism. McKee also has lectured and provided fieldwork supervision in CSUF’s Department of Special Education.

McKee earned her doctorate in education, with an emphasis in disability studies, from Chapman University. “Through my doctoral program, I developed a deeper understanding of disability history and the social construction of disability. I realized the importance of knowing where the field of disability has come from, for without understanding the history of disability, we will not be able to move forward.”

She also holds a master’s degree in education with a concentration in special education and completed the program for the early childhood special education credential at CSUF. She earned a bachelor’s degree in human development from Hope International University.

What inspired you to go into this field?

My journey into the world of disability started with my grandma, who contracted polio at age 2, and had significant impairments her entire life. She encountered accessibility challenges in society, as well as in her educational career. Because of how disability was viewed and understood during that time, my grandma felt she had to be grateful that she had access to school at all. I felt called to teach special education because I wanted to provide great educational experiences to students with disabilities. I believe it is their right to access quality education alongside their nondisabled peers.

What are your research interests?

My research interests include autism, with an emphasis on how to provide educational access to those who are nonspeaking, and the perception of disability severity and the impact it plays on a marginalized population of individuals. My research encompasses inclusive practices in classrooms — both in theory and in practice — as well as teacher training for sustainability of these inclusive practices. I am also interested in issues of access in early childhood special education, including obtaining early intervention, and lack of inclusive settings for young children with disabilities.

What do you hope future teachers learn from your teaching?

I hope my students take away a strong understanding of how to teach and provide intervention to students with disabilities, but also the importance of access and the right individuals with disabilities have to the same educational opportunities as their nondisabled peers. Now is the time we can work collaboratively with our general education counterparts and make significant strides in education. It is the next generation of teachers who will have an in-depth knowledge of inclusion and become the change-agents the field of education needs. Together we can make this happen.