Training Paraprofessionals to Improve Social Skills in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Friday, May 15, 2015: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Imperial Ballroom (Grand America Hotel)
S. Kim1, R. L. Koegel2 and L. K. Koegel2, (1)Education, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, (2)Koegel Autism Center, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA
Background: The number of students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) requiring special education services in public schools has steadily increased over the last decade (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2013).  In response, the employment of paraprofessionals in schools has increased in order to support these students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).  Although paraprofessionals often bear the responsibility to provide both academic and social support to students with ASD, they receive little to no training on how to successfully support these students (Giangreco, et al, 2001; Jones & Bender, 1993).  Providing social support to students with ASD becomes especially important when considering the risk factors associated with not receiving appropriate social intervention (Bauminger, & Shulman, 2003; Kasari, et al, 2012).

Objectives: The present study addressed the following questions: (1) Can paraprofessionals be trained to meet fidelity of implementation (FoI) on three key components when implementing social activities/games during unstructured outdoor periods (standing in an appropriate proximity, providing cooperative arrangements, and incorporating child preferred interests)? (2) Will paraprofessionals and their supervising special education teachers consider this type of social intervention to be simple and easy to implement? (3) Will training paraprofessionals result in improvements in engagement and verbal initiations for students’ with ASD? (4) Will students with ASD and typically developing peers enjoy participating in these specialized games/activities? 

Methods:   A multiple baseline across participants experimental design was used to evaluate the effects of training paraprofessionals to implement social activities/games during lunch recess by providing cooperative arrangements and incorporating the preferred/specialized interests of students with ASD, while standing in an appropriate proximity. The across-participant design with three dyads allowed for demonstrations of experimental effect at different points in time. Probes were collected once a week for Participant 1 and twice weekly for Participants 2 and 3. Systematically staggered baselines of 4, 8, and 11 sessions were recorded. Interobserver agreement was above 80% for all measures. 

Results:   The results of this present study suggest that paraprofessionals can be trained to fidelity to implement social intervention for students with ASD.  Both special education teachers and paraprofessionals reported that this type of social intervention was simple and easy to implement. The results also suggest that when paraprofessionals are trained the level of engagement and rate of verbal initiations improves for students with ASD.  Finally, both students with ASD and typically developing peers reported enjoyment when participating in the social activities/games.     

Conclusions:   This study demonstrated that, with minimal training, paraprofessionals could achieve FoI on an intervention for improving socialization for students with ASD. In addition, after paraprofessionals were trained, students with ASD showed improvements in their engagement with typically developing peers and spontaneously made a greater number of verbal initiations.  The results are discussed in terms of their implications for using trained paraprofessionals to improve social skills for students with ASD in the school setting.