The Impact of Teachers' Attitudes towards Evidence-Based Practices on Student Autism Symptom Severity

Friday, May 18, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
11:00 AM
C. S. Ghilain, D. C. Coman, A. Gutierrez and M. Alessandri, Psychology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
Background: With the increasing prevalence of children diagnosed with ASD comes the need for effective treatment models, therapy approaches, and community-based services for these individuals.  Treatment models with sound empirical support should be the “gold standard” for educating children with ASD; however, research and practice are often not well integrated. A current area of research in dissemination and implementation of Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs) in schools is the impact that teachers’ attitudes have on student performance in the classroom.  It is important to understand the impact of a teacher’s attitude on student outcomes, autism severity in this case, so as to provide the best possible educational environment for children with ASD.

 Objectives: The goal of this research is to gain a better understanding of how teacher attitudes towards EBPs impact students with ASD. We are particularly interested in better understanding the impact of teacher attitudes on a child’s autism severity over time in 3 different public school classroom models for children with ASD; TEACCH, LEAP and BAU(eclectic).

 Methods: 49 teachers (16 TEACCH, 15 LEAP, and 18 BAU) implementing classroom models at high levels of fidelity completed the Evidence-Based Practices Attitudes Scale (EBPAS), and 112 children (44 TEACCH, 35 LEAP, and 33 BAU) were administered the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) at the beginning and the end of the school year. Preliminary analyses were conducted to understand the relationship between teacher attitudes towards the use of EBPs and student autism severity. Regression analyses were used to understand the change in autism severity over the school year, and whether this change could be predicted by teacher attitudes at the start of the school year. Further analyses including utilizing a Multilevel Modeling (MLM) approach will be conducted to more fully take into account the nested structure of the data, so as to better understand differences of students across classrooms.

 Results: Preliminary analyses suggest more positive teacher attitudes towards the use of EBPs at the beginning of the school year predicted a significant decrease from beginning to end of the year in autism severity scores for students in the BAU group (F(1,32) = 17.300, p=.044, β= -.258), whereas this difference was not seen in the TEACCH (F(1,43) = 5.522, p = .994,  β= -.001) or LEAP (F(1, 34) = 28.260, p = .538, β= .066) groups. As mentioned above, additional analyses will be conducted to further explore within classroom differences by group.

 Conclusions: In BAU (eclectic) classrooms where individual teachers are free to use various EBPs rather than follow a specific classroom model (i.e., TEACCH or LEAP), a reduction in autism severity is seen from the beginning to the end of the school year. This decrease in autism severity is significantly related to a teacher’s attitudes towards adopting and utilizing EBPs in his or her classroom. It is possible this finding is due to a teacher’s ability to choose the EBPs he or she would like to use in the classroom setting as well as the ability choose whether or not to implement these strategies.

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