International Meeting for Autism Research: The Effects of Inclusive Education On Neurotypical Students' Attitudes Toward Autism

The Effects of Inclusive Education On Neurotypical Students' Attitudes Toward Autism

Saturday, May 22, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
10:00 AM
M. H. Hodge , Psychology, Furman University, Greenville, SC
E. R. Hahn , Psychology, Furman University, Greenville, SC
Background: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that schools educate children with exceptionalities in the “least restrictive environment” possible. The law resulted in an increase in inclusive educational practices in which students with exceptionalities are taught in settings with neurotypical peers.  In recent years, the number of students with autism in inclusive classrooms has increased in response to the increasing prevalence of autism diagnoses. Research investigating the effects of inclusive education has focused primarily on the students who have exceptionalities. Comparatively less research has examined the effects of inclusion on neurotypical students.

Objectives: The current research investigates neurotypical students’ attitudes toward peers displaying characteristics of autism and peers with physical exceptionalities as a function of the type of school that the neurotypical students are enrolled.  We hypothesize that neurotypical students who attend inclusive educational programs will have more favorable attitudes toward peers with autism and peers with physical exceptionalities than the neurotypical students who attend schools that do not practice inclusion. 

Methods: Neurotypical students in grades 4-8 from two schools were invited to participate. Students in one school (n = 15) were educated alongside one or two peers with autism for the majority of the school day. Students in the other school (n = 18) had no exposure to peers with autism while at school.  Groups of children were tested at two sessions conducted in a classroom during regular school hours. At the first session, the experimenter showed a 2-min video clip of a boy named Davie who exhibited autistic behaviors (e.g., repetitive behaviors, lack of eye contact). Immediately following the film-clip, students were asked to complete a modified version of the Chedoke-McMaster Attitudes toward Children with Handicaps scale (CATCH, Rosenbaum, Armstrong, & Kind, 1986). Items assessed children’s self-reported attitudes toward Davie (e.g., I wouldn’t worry if Davie sat next to me in class; I would not introduce Davie to my friends; I wouldn’t know what to say to Davie). At the second session, students were shown pictures of six children, three of whom had obvious physical disabilities (e.g., wheelchair, arm crutches). After each picture, students were asked to circle words they would use to describe the child (e.g., happy, ashamed, smart).

Results: Preliminary data analyses indicate that children who do not have exposure to peers with autism in school rate a novel autistic child less positively than children who attend an inclusive school. Additionally, the results suggest that the positive attitudes toward autism that children develop in an inclusive setting generalize to children’s impressions of physically-based exceptionalities. 

Conclusions: Educational programs that integrate children with autism in classrooms with neurotypical peers appear to improve attitudes toward autism as well as other exceptionalities. As a non-randomized trial, the results are limited by the possibility that selection bias drove the results. Suggestions for future research are discussed to address this concern.

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