Objectives: In the current study we: 1) examined the effectiveness of training sessions offered to school personnel by an autism-specific professional development team and 2) we indexed the additional needs of the educational community not covered through this training approach.
Methods: In the initial phase of the study, participants (n=82) were school system employees attending autism-specific training sessions funded by the state department of education. Participants were general and special education teachers, paraeducators, speech-language pathologists, administrators, and autism and behavior consultants. Each participant completed a pre-session and post-session questionnaire, in which they rated their confidence in identifying characteristics of ASD and utilizing a variety of evidence-based strategies to teach students with ASD. In the second phase of the study, participants were school system employees from across a state in the southeastern United States. Participants were requested, via electronic mail, to complete a survey regarding their professional development needs in relation to students with ASD.
Results: Preliminary results indicate that autism and behavior consultants, special education teachers, and speech-language pathologists enter professional development sessions with the greatest initial ASD-specific knowledge. Paraeducators and administrators enter training with the least initial ASD-specific knowledge. Overall, participants made significant self-reported gains in their ability to utilize behavioral and teaching strategies covered in the ASD-specific professional development sessions (p<.01 in all assessed areas of knowledge). General education teachers and paraeducators made significantly more gains in knowledge from pre-test to post-test than other groups (p<.01), particularly in their understanding of how to best organize a classroom to help a child be available for learning.
Conclusions: Training for school system employees appears to be an effective way to increase their knowledge and confidence in teaching and working with students with ASD. Further research needs to be conducted to identify specific training needs of educators of students with ASD. In addition, it is important to consider which learning modalities are most accessible and provide the best training opportunities.
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