Autism Knowledge among Pre-Service Teachers Specialized in Children Birth through Age Five: Implications for Health Education

By Johnson, Ping; Porter, Kandice et al. | American Journal of Health Education, September-October 2012 | Go to article overview

Autism Knowledge among Pre-Service Teachers Specialized in Children Birth through Age Five: Implications for Health Education


Johnson, Ping, Porter, Kandice, McPherson, Ian, American Journal of Health Education


ABSTRACT

Background: Autism prevalence has grown dramatically. Early interventions are effective in helping children with autism develop behavior patterns similar to children without the condition. It is important for health educators and teachers to recognize common autism symptoms among preschool children so they will benefit from early intervention.

Purpose: To examine autism knowledge among pre-service teachers specialized in children birth through age five (B-5). Method: After an IRB approval was obtained, a self-administered paper-pencil survey was conducted in four undergraduate B-5 programs in the Southeastern United States. Data were collected from 148 of the 176 pre-service B-5 teachers. Results: The mean age was 32 and 139 (93.9%) were female. 75.0% of the participants had limited experience interacting with autistic children. The mean score of perceived knowledge was 3.7 on a 7-point Likert scale with 7 being very knowledgeable and 1 being no knowledge. The mean actual knowledge score was 19.1 out of 26. Discussion: Many participants lacked autism knowledge, which is influenced by age, perceived autism knowledge, past experience in working with autistic children and the number of sources where participants received autism information. Translation to Health Education: Health educators should plan, implement, administer and manage health education, especially autism education, for B-5 teacher preparation programs.

BACKGROUND

The reported prevalence of autism has grown from 0.004% in 1960s (1) to about 0.9% in 2006. (2) The prevalence of autism is even higher (5%) among adolescents born with low-birth weight. (3) It is unknown whether such an increase in autism prevalence is caused by the actual increase of autism cases (4) or as a result of more precise screening techniques and increased awareness of autism. (5) Nevertheless, such a dramatic increase of autism prevalence has presented serious challenges for parents and caregivers of children with autism as well as professionals such as educators, physicians and psychologists. (6-8)

Children with autism generally have impaired communicative language, repetitive stereotyped behavior, and deficient social interaction. (9-12) Although the exact cause of autism is unknown, one recent study found evidence of reduced grey-matter in certain regions of the brain among children with autism. (13) Other studies have suggested that genetic predispositions, environmental factors, or a combination of both has contributed to the development of autism. (4)

Although there is no known cure for autism, early intervention has shown to offer significant benefits, (14,15) including greatly enhanced communication skills, social interaction and behavioral improvements; (12) and improved functioning and quality of life for the affected individuals and those close to them. (16) Research also noted that the earlier a child with autism receives treatment, the more he or she will be able to socialize and interact normally. (17) Although autistic behaviors have been identified in children as young as eight months of age, (18) the average age of confirmed diagnosis is 5.5 years, (19) and many individuals do not receive treatment until several years after the emergence of their symptoms. Such delay may limit the lifelong ability of a child with autism to function in society. (17)

As early intervention is crucial in treating autistic children, it is imperative that the affected children are identified as early as possible in order to receive early treatment. (17) Because early childhood educators spend large amounts of time with children, sometimes more than the parents, (20) they are in a reliable situation (i.e., repeated periods of prolonged social interaction) to identify autistic behaviors. (14) Additionally, early childhood educators may view children more impartially than their parents and thus have the potential to have a more accurate observation for such a condition. …

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