Building Better Bridges for Critical School Transitions of Underserved Children with ASD

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
J. Smith, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Ethnically diverse, foreign-born, low-income, and rural children have been found to receive autism diagnoses later than their white counterparts, as well as receive different combinations of autism-specific services than white children with ASD (Magaña et al., 2013, Mandell et al., 2009; Mandell et al., 2010; Thomas et al., 2007; Valicenti-McDermott et al., 2012). This requires the development of policies and practices to address the needs of these communities. Community partnered participatory research (CPPR; Jones et al., 2009) is a transformative framework with documented effects with ethnically diverse cultural groups in community health (Chung et al., 2010; Kim et al., 2005). Benefits of using CPPR as a framework include increases in knowledge, engagement, acceptability of intervention, and community support and trust (Powers, 2017).

Objectives: Building Better Bridges is a five-year collaborative study that investigates the transition experiences of under-served families of children with ASD. Goals include the development of an intervention that engages parents, students, and school personnel to create a seamless hand-off between school systems or grade levels, and focuses on the development of critical transition skills. This abstract identifies barriers and needs in critical school transitions (i.e., preschool to primary, and primary to secondary).

Methods: Collaborators developed a protocol for focus groups and interviews with parents and staff to identify current transition processes, supports that facilitate transition, challenges and successes, and recommendations. Data included 38 transcripts with school providers (n=75) and parents (n=44) of children with ASD who had undergone a critical K-12 transition within the past year, and who met federal low-income qualifications. Focus groups and interviews were conducted in English or Spanish to match the parent's primary language, audio recorded, and transcribed. Coders established reliability on two consecutive transcripts (d > 0.61; Council on Exceptional Children, 2014); twenty percent of transcripts were double coded. Raters reached consensus on emergent codes and final themes through the constant comparative method. Stakeholder involvement ensured themes reflective of our target population.

Results: Parents reported great variability at the transition into kindergarten due to the change in systems from preschool to kindergarten. Some parents reported being well-prepared by the preschool, while other parents and some providers reported limited support due to the sending school's inability to definitely discuss district placements or services. Supports included service providers (e.g., SLPs, paraeducators, etc.) and other parents who had gone through transition. In secondary, school practices were more structured with school tours and summer bridge programs organized by the sending or receiving school. Recommendations included training for parents, paraeducators, and general education teachers, better home-school communication systems, and improved communication from one school team to another.

Conclusions: Although transition planning must be individualized, school practices vary greatly from district to district, and from school to school. There is a need to develop standard transition practices including how under-served parents are informed about transition, and how one educational team communicates information to the new team. Building Better Bridges addresses this need, and over the next two years, will be tested in a randomized control trial.