International Meeting for Autism Research: Teacher Commitment and Burnout: Their Effects on the Fidelity of Implementation of Comprehensive Treatment Programs for Preschool Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Teacher Commitment and Burnout: Their Effects on the Fidelity of Implementation of Comprehensive Treatment Programs for Preschool Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
9:00 AM
D. C. Coman, A. Gutierrez and M. Alessandri, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, United States
Background: The primary source of intervention for most children with ASD and their families is provided through the school system.  For more than two decades, however, special education teacher shortages and attrition have been of concern to policymakers and administrators who work to recruit and retain special educators (Council for Exceptional Children [CEC], 2000).  This deficiency may have serious and far-reaching consequences for children with ASD.  It is imperative, therefore, to investigate the antecedents that may be at the root cause of the decision by special educators to leave the field.  Considerable research has shown that teacher burnout, a unique type of stress syndrome, directly influences attrition rates and student outcomes (Billingsley, 2004).  Fortunately, there are factors that have been shown to mitigate the onset of this syndrome.  Prior research suggests that teachers who endorse the underlying philosophy of their teaching approach experience lower levels of burnout (Jennet, Harris, & Mesibov, 2003).  A better understanding of these factors may provide school districts, policymakers, and administrators with information that would enable them to make necessary adaptations in policy and practice which may help ameliorate these current issues within the field.

Objectives: This study explored teacher commitment to model philosophy and teacher burnout (i.e., Emotional Exhaustion [EE], Depersonalization [DP], and Personal Accomplishment [PA]) across three preschool classroom models for children with ASD: TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children); LEAP (Learning Experiences and Alternative Program for Preschoolers and their Parents); and Business As Usual (BAU).  Additionally, this study examined effects of these variables on the fidelity of implementation of these programs.

Methods: This study was conducted in conjunction with and support from a larger multi-site (FL, NC, CO, MN) treatment comparison project.  53 teachers (17 TEACCH, 15 LEAP, and 21 BAU) completed the Teacher Philosophy Questionnaire-Adapted Version, a Demographic Form, and the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Educators Survey.  Additionally, fidelity of classroom implementation was assessed with empirically validated fidelity measures.

Results: LEAP teachers were significantly more committed to LEAP philosophy and practice relative to the TEACCH and BAU teachers, F(2, 50) = 9.16, p<.001, η2 = .27.  TEACCH teachers were not significantly more committed to TEACCH philosophy and BAU teachers reported similar levels of commitment to both TEACCH and LEAP.  Additionally, results provided support for a quadratic relationship between teacher commitment and EE experienced in the middle of the school year, R2 = 0.66, adjusted R2 = 0.44, F(14, 38) =  2.09, p < .05.  The individual regression coefficient for the quadratic variable (β = 0.37), t(38) = 2.28, p < .05 accounted for 8% of the variance in the EE variable.  Results did not indicate any significant relationships with the fidelity construct.   

Conclusions: This study suggests that LEAP teachers may have significantly higher levels of commitment to their own classroom model philosophy relative to TEACCH and BAU teachers.  Additionally, commitment to the underlying philosophical tenets and practices of TEACCH and LEAP may serve as a buffer to some aspects of experienced levels of burnout during the school year.

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