The High School Experiences of Adolescents with ASD - Perspectives from Multiple Stakeholders

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
S. Kucharczyk1, J. Redding2, C. K. Reutebuch3 and S. Hedges4, (1)Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Cary, NC, (2)Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (CSESA), Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, (3)The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, (4)UNC Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background: As a whole, the public school system is falling short of its responsibility to prepare students with ASD for a productive and independent life after high school (Taylor & Seltzer, 2010). When young adults with ASD leave high school, “nearly 80% still live at home, almost half have no jobs or postsecondary training, 40% never have contact with friends, 17% never feel hopeful about the future, 21% never engage in outside activities, and many experience a decrease in insurance coverage and therapy services” (Shattuck, 2010).   Gathering and acknowledging the perspectives of stakeholders directly involved in the education and experience of high school students with ASD is essential to implementing effective interventions that address this shortfall and offer more promising outcomes.

Objectives: This study examines the perspectives of stakeholders involved in the education of high school students with ASD on the following issues: (1) how the transition-related needs of adolescents with ASD are currently being addressed, (2) what considerations and challenges arise when implementing interventions for adolescents with ASD, and (3) what professional development, resources, and supports are needed to address the transition-related needs of adolescents with ASD well.

Methods: Focus group methodology was used to gather data across multiple stakeholders (i.e., family members, adolescents and young adults with ASD, educators, administrators, community members, service providers) and regions of the United States (i.e., South, Midwest). A total of 152 participants attended the 28 focus group sessions across 4 states (i.e., North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin). The largest stakeholder groups represented were parents (n = 47) and educators (n = 45), and the smallest number represented individuals on the spectrum (n = 6). Other groups were school administrators (n = 24) and service providers/community members (n = 24). Data was analyzed through a multi-step, team-based approach using NVivo10 software (QSR International, 2012) to code, categorize, and capture emerging themes.                                                 

Results: Three distinct themes emerged from the analysis of focus group participants: (1) efforts made by schools to address the needs of youth with ASD are for the most part insufficient or nonexistent; (2) the feasibility of interventions for adolescents with ASD (e.g., time and effort required, buy-in) and the variability of ASD are inhibitors to implementation and sustainability; and (3) the need for professional development, resources, and support is critical.

Conclusions: Improvement in post-secondary outcomes for individuals with ASD will require a comprehensive effort across high schools to enable them to be proactive in addressing behavior, academic, and social problems; enhance instruction; better support individuals with ASD and their families in high school and beyond; and enable students to reach their full potential. Implications on the development of interventions, professional development, and related research grounded in the perspectives of stakeholders will be discussed.

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