In a recent blog, Michael B. Horn identified how Rethink Autism’s business model bears many of the traits of a disruptive innovation. The new company brings to the table individualized ABA plans for autistic children via the Internet at a fraction of the cost of hiring an ABA-trained professional.

Another disruption is emerging in the ecosystem of an autistic child. Every day, thousands of parents, daycare workers, after-school coordinators and other adults interact with autistic children. With an autism diagnosis resulting in one out of every 110 births in the U.S., an increasing number of adults who work with children need skills for working with this disability.

However, most of these adults are nonconsumers of autism-specific training. Daycare workers, for example, cannot attend annual conventions to learn the latest findings about how to work with each of the various disabilities they encounter in their classrooms. Teachers do not have professional development days to acquire new skills for each child’s unique needs, whether autism related or other. Parents often lack the time and money to attend classes to stay current with the latest interventions for their special-needs kids.

Autism Training Solutions [ATS] has gone live this month with these nonconsumers in mind. Like Rethink Autism, ATS shows many attributes of a disruptive innovation. ATS sells a library of media-rich training modules, accompanied by quizzes, discussion forums and other online resources, to train adults on how to provide evidence-based interventions for children with autism and other behavioral disabilities.

ATS provides a way for caregivers to receive ongoing, on-demand training at their own pace and place. In this way, the Great Recession might be the best thing that has happened to professional development. At a time when educators, caregivers and parents face declining resource for ongoing skill building, this growing group of nonconsumers is creating a market need that companies like ATS are rushing to fill with low-end disruptions. Eventually online professional development offerings will migrate up market, their tools will become more sophisticated and prolific, and caregivers will have opportunities for customized, need-specific skill building that have been impossible in the past.


  • Heather Staker
    Heather Staker

    Heather Staker is an adjunct fellow at the Christensen Institute, specializing in K–12 student-centered teaching and blended learning. She is the co-author of "Blended" and "The Blended Workbook." She is the founder and president of Ready to Blend, and has authored six BloomBoard micro-credentials for the “Foundations of Blended Learning” educator micro-endorsement.