Student-Teacher Relationships and ASD: What We Know and Where We Need to Go

Panel Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 10:30 AM
Room: 517B (Palais des congres de Montreal)
J. Blacher1, Y. Bolourian2, A. Eisenhower3 and A. Losh1, (1)Graduate School of Education, University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA, (2)University of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA, (3)Psychology, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA
Background: Good quality teacher-child interactions, not surprisingly, are associated with many child benefits (Pianta et al., 2017), while relationships that are conflictual may engender academic disengagement, low motivation, and poor self-concept (Curby et al., 2013). Children with close, low-conflict relationships with teachers are better positioned to explore their environment and interact with others (Pianta & Rimm-Kaufman, 2006). Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have, on average, more conflictual and less close relationships with their teachers relative to their peers in normative samples (Eisenhower et al., 2015; Caplan et al., 2016), and even relative to children with intellectual disability (Blacher et al., 2009; Blacher et al., 2014). However, little is known about predictors of student-teacher relationship (STR) quality for children with ASD. While teacher characteristics contribute to STRs, behavioral and social characteristics of children may also shape STR quality. Moreover, parenting behavior may indirectly impact these relationships.

Objectives: Working from a conceptual model of predictors and outcomes of STR quality for children with ASD, we present results testing some of the proposed pathways regarding child and parent predictors of STR quality in the context of ASD. These include already-published findings as background to test our model, as well as new findings regarding the role of parents in STR development. As part of an overall teacher-directed intervention, preliminary focus group data from general education teachers about their pedagogical practices for children with ASD in their classrooms will be presented.

Methods: Participants include 176 children with ASD (4-7 years), parents and teachers. Children have a mean IQ of 90 on the WPPSI -III; all diagnoses of ASD were confirmed with the ADOS. In addition to parent- and teacher-report measures and child performance-based language and reading measures, children and parents were coded in a free play task using the Parent-Child Interaction Rating System (Belsky et al., 1995; Blacher et al., 2013).

Results: Findings that inform testing of pathways in the conceptual model will be highlighted. Cross-lagged panel analyses indicated that children’s' higher early externalizing problems led to increases in STR conflict and decreases in STR closeness across multiple school years and classrooms (Eisenhower et al., 2015). Academically, STR quality predicted change in reading comprehension skills over time. Cross-lagged panel modeling suggested that this link may be causal, with positive early STRs uniquely predicting later gains in reading comprehension relative to peers (Blacher et al., 2015). As evidence of the contribution of parenting to STRs, children whose parents displayed more intrusiveness in a structured reading task had poorer-quality STRs one year later. Parent intrusiveness mediated the predictive relationship between child spoken language skills and STR quality.

Conclusions: Collectively, findings suggest that child characteristics (e.g., fewer behavior problems) lead to early, strong STRs. In addition, findings that parenting predicts STRs one year later have implications for intervention with both teachers and parents. Qualitative results highlight teachers’ perspectives on students with ASD in general education classrooms, and the feasibility of a program to improve STRs.