Pre-Professional Preparation of Speech-Language Pathologists to Serve Individuals with ASD Across the Lifespan

Thursday, May 12, 2016: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
K. P. Wilson1, J. Preis2, G. Chasson3, A. C. Jozkowski4 and C. Shotto1, (1)Department of Audiology, Speech-Language Pathology, and Deaf Studies, Towson University, Towson, MD, (2)Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences, Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore, MD, (3)Department of Psychology, Towson University, Towson, MD, (4)Department of Occuptional Therapy and Occupational Science, Towson University, Towson, MD
Background: With the rising incidence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD; Baio, 2014) and the aging of the existing population of individuals on the spectrum, there is a pressing need for clinical professionals trained and experienced to work with individuals with ASD across the lifespan. Individuals on the spectrum interact with a variety of professionals and community members throughout their lives. Disconcertingly, studies show that pre-professional students in health care disciplines lack even a basic understanding of diagnostic criteria for ASD (e.g., Freedman, 2014; Price, 2013) and have very little experience with adults on the spectrum, in particular. Despite speech-language pathologists’ training in typical and atypical development of language and social communication, research shows a lack of preparation and misconceptions about ASD among practicing professionals in the field.

Objectives: This study aims to (1) describe the preparation levels of graduate speech-language pathology (SLP) master’s students across two regional universities, (2) examine the impact of a unique clinical teaching model at one university that includes hands-on experience with adults with ASD, and (3) suggest practices for optimal clinical education in the area of ASD across the lifespan.

Methods: This study utilized a longitudinal design with data collected at multiple time points across students’ graduate education (baseline and following each semester). Dependent variables include the following, as self-reported by student participants (n=140) through survey completion: (1) feelings of preparedness related to treating clients with ASD across age ranges and settings, (2) knowledge of characteristics and diagnostic criteria of ASD, (3) additional contact with individuals on the spectrum sought outside of assigned clinical experiences, and (4) openness/attitudes regarding adult peers on the spectrum.  This presentation will focus on the change in student responses across time and following specific clinical experiences to offer implications and suggestions for clinical preparation strategies.

Results: Preliminary results indicate that SLP students lack significant experience with individuals with ASD prior to graduate school, and with adults with ASD in particular. The majority of participants reported more positive perceptions of their prior experience with children with ASD as compared to their experiences with adults with ASD. Analysis of longitudinal data indicates only minimal increase in feelings of preparation to treat clients with ASD over time, with the majority responding that they felt only moderately competent in their clinical preparedness in ASD after both their first and second semesters of graduate school. Gaps in preparedness and knowledge regarding adults with ASD were more marked. Analysis of the impact of a unique hands-on model of clinical education with adults with ASD is ongoing with preliminary results showing trends towards significant impact of the program. Results will be reported and discussed.

Conclusions: With 80% of participating students reporting interest in working with clients with ASD, it is clear that additional ASD experience and education is needed. Initial results elucidate this gap and point to specific areas of need and interest for SLP master’s students. Implications and suggestions will be geared towards university educators in clinical fields that serve individuals with ASD across the lifespan.