Parent-Teacher Communication about Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Examination of Collaborative Problem-Solving

Saturday, May 14, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
G. Azad1, M. Kim1, D. S. Mandell1 and S. Sheridan2, (1)University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, (2)University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE
Background: Parent-teacher communication is an essential component to establishing and sustaining successful family-school partnerships (Cheatham & Ostrosky, 2011; Dunst, 2002). One aspect of effective communication is the ability to problem-solve when presented with a student concern (Allen & Blackston, 2003). The extent to which parents and teachers problem-solve may be as important as any direct intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There are numerous opportunities for parents and teachers of children with ASD to problem-solve, such as parent-teacher conferences and Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. However, a large percentage of families reported feeling dissatisfied during these interactions with school staff (Lake & Billingsley, 2000). Schools continue to struggle in creating consistent, reliable, two-way communication systems, particularly with low-income, minority families (Lo, 2008; Tucker & Schwartz, 2013). However, limited studies have examined the interactions between parents and teachers of children with ASD. There is a pressing need to investigate parent-teacher communication, particularly with regard to problem-solving behaviors.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to examine the problem-solving behaviors of parents and teachers of children with ASD. Our aims were: 1) To examine the extent to which parents and teachers engaged in problem-solving behaviors when discussing students’ concerns; 2) To examine differences between parents’ and teachers’ problem-solving behaviors; and 3) To examine whether reported problem-solving behaviors differed from observed problem-solving behaviors.

Methods: Participants included 18 kindergarten-through-fifth grade autism support teachers and 39 parents of children with ASD. A majority of the teachers were female (89%) with an average age of 36 years (SD = 11.3); 83.3% identified as White. Parents were primarily mothers (95%) who averaged 34.9 years of age (SD = 6.2); 56.4% identified as African American/Black. Parent-teacher dyads were prompted to discuss and provide a solution for a problem that a student experienced at home and at school. Parents’ and teachers’ problem-solving behaviors were coded using the Engagement in Consultation Scale – Observer Form Revised (Sheridan et al., 2005). Parents and teachers self-reported on their problem-solving behaviors using the Parent/Teacher Participation in Problem-Solving Scales, respectively.

Results: Analyses included paired sample t-tests and McNemar’s tests. Results showed that parents and teachers displayed low levels of the core elements of problem-solving. However, teachers were observed to display more problem-solving behaviors compared to parents. Generally, both groups reported engaging in more problem-solving behaviors than they were observed to display during the dyad observation.

Conclusions: The results from the present study were consistent with prior investigations examining communication between parents and teachers. Our findings suggest that teacher and parent training programs should include collaboration and positive approaches to problem-solving. A better understanding of how to support parent-teacher communication may empower family-school partnerships, and ultimately, outcomes for children with ASD.