Influence of Child and Teacher Characteristics on Educational Placement of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Many professionals and families contend that inclusion of students with ASD in general education settings is the best approach to promote educational and overall progress in children with ASD. Others, however, harbor concerns about whether the inclusion model can meet the social and educational needs of children with ASD. Given the potential benefits and drawbacks of inclusive education, it is unclear how placement decisions are made for children with ASD. Few studies in particular have explored the links between educational placement and student characteristics. In general, these studies showed that children with higher IQ and milder forms of ASD were most likely to be placed in inclusive classrooms. External variables, such as teacher characteristics, may also affect such placement decisions and warrant further exploration.
This project was undertaken to examine educational placement in a well-characterized sample of young children with ASD. The specific aims of the study were to examine child and teacher characteristics and the influence on educational placement.
Forty-nine student-teacher dyads were recruited as part of a larger randomized controlled study on teacher consultation and coaching for young children with ASD between the ages of 3 and 8 years. Educational placement was determined by information obtained on IEPs along with the number of hours educated in the general education setting. A battery of baseline measures was completed to characterize the profiles of the students through direct assessment, including diagnostic, cognitive functioning, speech and language, and engagement in classroom setting. Caregiver report was also collected to determine behavioral functioning and adaptive functioning. Teachers were also asked to complete inventories for background and demographic information, stress, burn-out, administrative support, and self-efficacy.
Independent t-tests were conducted to compare child and teacher characteristics for general and special education settings. No significant differences for child or teacher characteristics across the two settings were obtained. Given that some students with ASD may not be entirely educated within only the general education or special education settings, a Pearson product-moment correlation was performed to determine the relationship between child and teacher characteristics and the number of hours spent in the general education setting as well as the number of minutes of more inclusive and restrictive supports. Main findings included moderate, positive correlations between hours of general education and cognitive functioning (r = .32), communication (r = .35), and age (r = .33) along with a moderate, negative correlation for autism severity (r = -.46). Teacher burn-out (emotional exhaustion r = .43; depersonalization r = .34; r = -.35) and self-efficacy (r = .56) were also correlated with the number of minutes spent providing one-on-one instruction.
As with previous studies, educational placement in inclusive settings was associated with higher cognitive functioning and speech abilities along with lesser symptomatology. The results also demonstrated a relationship between the beliefs teachers hold regarding their capability to bring about desired instructional outcomes and the burn-out experienced in high demand instructional situations.