Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Preparing Teachers in Evidence-Based Practices for Young Children with Autism

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Preparing Teachers in Evidence-Based Practices for Young Children with Autism

Article excerpt

Abstract. Efforts to transfer research findings on autism into public schools would benefit from further evaluation of teacher preparation models. The purpose of this study was to evaluate a model program that was designed to prepare current teachers in evidence-based practices for children with autism. Drawn from the extensive literatures on caregiver teaching and behavioral interventions, this relatively comprehensive program was designed to be feasible within the constraints of typical school settings. Four certified special education teachers and a teacher-in-training participated in an intensive university-based summer program that incorporated both didactic and performance-based instruction. The teachers were taught a relatively large number of specific skills within three areas that have been the focus of extensive study for children with developmental disabilities (preference assessment, direct teaching, and incidental teaching). Results suggested that the teachers mastered all of these skills during role play and then implemented them successfully with 6 children who participated in the program. Teacher preparation also was associated with increases in correct task responses and communication among the children.


Research conducted over the past 40 years has shown that interventions based on the principles of behavior analysis are highly effective for remediating the deficits associated with autism. As such, parents of children with autism are increasingly asking public school teachers to incorporate these behavioral technologies into classroom instruction (Jacobson, 2000). The demand for teachers who have expertise in applied behavior analysis will continue to grow as more young children with autism receive the majority of their education in regular public schools. Enrollment of children with autism and related conditions in U.S. schools swelled from 5,000 students in 1991-1992 to 94,000 in 2000-2001 (U.S. Department of Education, 2002).

However, most teachers receive relatively little, if any, formal instruction in evidence-based practices for children with autism (National Research Council, 2001). The scarcity of specialized preparation in autism at colleges of education may be attributable to the low incidence of this disorder relative to other disabilities. On the other hand, some authors have noted that effective behavioral technologies are rarely emphasized in teacher education programs because the education system is driven by current dogma and theory rather than by research on best practices (e.g., Carnine, 1992; Polsgrove, 2003).

Continuing education programs may be useful and necessary for providing specialized instruction on autism to public school teachers. Numerous studies have shown that parents, teachers, and staff can learn to implement behavioral interventions for children with autism and related disabilities with a high degree of integrity (e.g., Kissel, Whitman, & Reid, 1983; Koegel, Russo, & Rincover, 1977; Laski, Charlop, & Schreibman, 1988). The voluminous training literature also has begun to identify best practices for teaching others (for reviews, see Gravois, Knotek, & Babinski, 2002; Noell, Duhon, Gatti, & Connell, 2002; Reid & Green, 1990). In most studies, caregivers were taught a restricted set of skills (e.g., direct teaching using least-to-most prompting procedures) via somewhat labor-intensive models (i.e., one person at a time participated in a series of teaching sessions with a professional). Models for transferring a broad range of research findings on best practices for children with autism to current public school teachers have received less attention in the literature.

The limited time that is available for teachers to participate in continuing education and for qualified consultants to provide comprehensive instruction is one key barrier to disseminating research findings. Typically, school districts provide little class-release time for teachers, and continuing education is restricted to a handful of didactic workshops that cover a variety of topics throughout the academic year. …

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