Student-Teacher Closeness Impacts School Engagement

Thursday, May 12, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
B. Hedges1, C. Kasari2, W. I. Shih3, C. Lord4, R. Landa5 and B. King6, (1)Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, (2)University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, (3)UCLA, Monrovia, CA, (4)Weill Cornell Medical College, White Plains, NY, (5)The Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, MD, (6)University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital, Seattle, WA

Mainstream education incurs both benefits and risks for children with autism spectrum disorders. Despite typical peer models, these children are often socially isolated in the mainstream classroom (Chamberlain 2007). A recent study examined the efficacy of different social skills interventions for children with ASD in mainstream classrooms (Kasari 2015), finding that teacher reports of closeness to the target children moderated the children’s responsiveness to intervention. Previous research indicates that the student-teacher relationship has an impact on the social functioning of typically developing preschoolers (Howes 2008), as well as academic success (Hamre and Pianta, 2001). A study of intellectually disabled children found that the student-teacher relationship was less close and less stable than typically developing peers. Child behavior problems in ID youth predicted greater student-teacher conflict whereas social skills predicted greater closeness (Blacher 2009). We have yet to examine how the student-teacher relationship affects peer to peer relationships of children with ASD.


To understand the relationship between student-teacher closeness and peer engagement at school for children with ASD.


Participants included 134 children, 110 males. The average age was 8 years. All children were in general education classrooms for at least 80% of the day and had ADOS-confirmed diagnosis of ASD. Data was collected using the Student Teacher Relationship Scale (Pianta 2001), the Behavioral Assessment System for Children (Reynolds, 2004), and a classroom friendship survey which included the number of classmates the target child nominated as a friend (out-degrees) and the number of times the target child was nominated as a friend by classmates (in-degrees). Peer engagement was measured using the Playground Observation of Peer Engagement (Kasari et al 2005). 


Correlational analyses were used to examine teacher-child closeness with adaptive functioning, in-degree and out-degree nominations, peer engagement on the playground, and student-teacher conflict. Teacher –child closeness was positively linked to higher scores of observed peer engagement on the playground (r=.214, p=.0198). Additionally, higher closeness was associated with in-degrees (r=.346,p<.001). Children with higher teacher closeness tended to be rated higher on measures of adaptive functioning by both teacher and parent (r=.484, p<.001 and r=.218, p=.0257, respectively). High teacher closeness was negatively correlated with teacher reports of conflict within the teacher-child relationship (r=-.323, p<.001). Finally, no significant relationship between child’s IQ and teacher-child closeness was found.  


Children with ASD who are rated as having a closer relationship with their teachers tend to have higher engagement with peers on the playground and more positive peer nominations. Classroom interventions focused on improving social engagement in children with autism rarely target the teacher-child relationship directly; further research may be warranted to investigate whether teacher-child closeness has an effect on social engagement in young children with autism spectrum disorders.