Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Implementation Science, Professional Development, and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Implementation Science, Professional Development, and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Article excerpt

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has the most rapidly increasing prevalence rate of any disability (Boyle et al., 2011). Increasing prevalence has intensified the need to provide high-quality educational services in public school settings through the implementation of evidence-based practices (EBPs). Such needs may be addressed through professional development, and an "enlightened" professional development model should follow the principles of implementation science (Odom, 2009). The National Professional Development Center on ASD (NPDC) professional development program provides an example of how implementation science can enhance program quality and teachers' use of EBPs for students with ASD.

ASD AND PUBLIC EDUCATION

Within the public education system, ASD falls under the Autism classification established by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; 2006), defined as: "a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, ... engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences" (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. [section] 300.8[c][1][i]). Children with ASD exhibit these characteristics before they are 3 years old, although they may not be diagnosed until later. The disorder is often accompanied by other comorbidities such as intellectual disability. About 75% of individuals with ASD are male, and the disorder occurs across socioeconomic levels (SES) and ethnic groups, although children from low SES and/or minority groups tend to be diagnosed later than other children in the U.S. population (Mandell et al., 2009). The cause of ASD is not known, but there is strong evidence that it is a neurodevelopmental disorder and genetic in origin (Volkmar, Lord, Bailey, Schultz, & Kiln, 2004).

The prevalence of ASD has risen dramatically in the last 2 decades. Studies from the 1960s to the mid-1980s found autism prevalence rates of .7/10,000 to around 2/10,000 (Zahner & Pauls, 1987). A recent epidemiological study reported a prevalence rate of 1 in 105 children in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). These differences represent acceleration in prevalence of 5814% (i.e., using the 1/86 and 2/10,000 rates). This acceleration in prevalence is also reflected in special education services provided. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs has tracked the number of children with autism receiving services since 1991. This number increased from 5,415 in 1991 to 224,594 children in 2006 (a 4,000% increase; U.S. Department of Education Data Accountability. Center, 2006), with these figures only reflecting children from ages 6 to 21 years and thus an underestimate of total numbers receiving services (i.e., excluding 3to 5-year-old children who also receive services).

Accompanying the increase in services provided for children with ASD has been an increase in litigation through due process concerning the types of services provided (Zirkel, 2002). In their analysis of 254 due process litigations and rulings related to learners with ASD, Yell, Katsiyannis, Drasgow, and Herbst (2003) found that school systems often did not provide evidence of quality features of programs such as appropriate development of individualized education programs (IEPs), staffing, and appropriate public education learning environments. In a follow-up article, Yell, Drasgow, and Lowrey (2005) identified the features of programs for learners with autism that reflected current requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (and which generally indicated an appropriate program). These features included individualized supports and services, systematic instruction, comprehensive and structured learning environments, specific curriculum content, a functional approach to problem behavior, and family involvement. …

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