Teaching Children with Autism in Regular Classrooms: A Delphi Investigation of Necessary Knowledge for Teachers.

Averil Jessie Schiff

A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Education, The University of Auckland, 2008.

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Autism is a developmental disorder with a current prevalence rate of 1:150 in the United States. As children with disabilities are now commonly taught within regular education classrooms for at least part of their school day, regular classroom teachers are charged with teaching children with autism who present a number of challenges unique to the disorder. A review of the research shows that regular teachers feel ill equipped to adequately educate these children, and that the advice and training available to teachers is often vague or conflicts with the empirical evidence regarding effective methods for educating children with autism.

In order to address this problem, this study employed the Delphi method to identify necessary knowledge of autism for regular classroom teachers. The Delphi method uses a series of iterative surveys to solicit the opinions of a group of experts concerning a particular topic and aims to reach a group consensus. Board Certified Behavior1 Analysts were selected as the participants in this study as Applied Behavior Analysis interventions have been shown through research to be the most effective means for teaching children with autism.

One hundred and one suggestions were made by the participants in six areas of knowledge: the nature of autism, the specific child that is to be included in the teacher’s classroom, Applied Behavior Analysis, other interventions and teaching strategies, working with others, and other training and knowledge. Seventy-three items within these categories reached consensus to be of at least moderately-high importance to teachers’ knowledge. Of those, the participants voted that teachers should be able to demonstrate practical application of 33 of

1 The majority of research conducted in the field of autism has been produced in the United States. Therefore, to ensure accuracy and consistency in quoting, referring to program titles, etc., U.S. spelling conventions have been used throughout this document.

the items. The items that did, and did not, reach consensus on level of importance in terms of

teacher knowledge are considered in light of existing research and available teacher training.

The results of this study highlight the necessity of teacher training in empirically validated methods for educating children with autism. The specific recommendations of the participants in this study may be considered in the development of teacher training curricula.

Table of Contents Page


i. Introduction 1

ii. Intervention research 2

A. Issues in autism intervention and research 2

B. Behavioral approaches 4

i. The Lovaas method 4

C. Eclectic approaches 10

i. TEACCH 10

ii. Comparison of TEACCH and behavioral interventions 14

C. Developmental approaches 16

i. Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) 16

ii. Floortime 17

iii. Son-Rise 18

D. Summary 18

iii. Autism training and recommendations for teachers 19

i. In-person training 19

ii. Written recommendations 22

iv. Teacher experiences and knowledge of autism 25

v. Conclusion 29


i. The Delphi method 31

ii. Computer-based questionnaires 35

iii. Application to the present study 36

iv. Procedures 37

i. Participants 37

ii. Instruments 38

i. Idea solicitation survey 38

ii. Survey: Voting round one 38

iii. Survey: Voting round two 40

iv. Survey: Voting round three 41

v. Survey: Voting round four 42

iii. Assessment of stability 43


i. Overview of results 46

ii. The nature of autism 47

iii. The specific child in the classroom 52

iv. Applied behavior analysis 55

v. Other interventions or strategies 61

vi. Working with others 68

vii. Other knowledge or training 70


i. Introduction 74

Table of Contents Page

4. DISCUSSION continued…

ii. The nature of autism 75

iii. The specific child in the classroom 76

iv. Applied behavior analysis 76

v. Other interventions or strategies 78

vi. Working with others 79

vii. Other knowledge or training 80




Tables Page

Table 1 Example of Stability Calculation Process 44 Table 2 Voting Results for Category “The Nature of Autism” 48 Table 3 Voting Results for Category “The Specific Child that is to be

Included” 54 Table 4 Voting Results for Category “Applied Behavior Analysis” 58 Table 5 Voting Results for Category “Other Interventions and Strategies” 62 Table 6 Voting Results for Category “Working with Others” 69 Table 7 Voting Results for Category “Other Knowledge or Training” 73

Figures Page
Figure 1 Likert Scale Used in Voting Surveys 39
Figure 2 Example of Exact Agreement of “High Importance” 40
Figure 3 Example of Approximate Agreement of “Moderately-High to High Importance” 40
Figure 4 Distribution of Responses for Item “Children with autism are emotionally intact and care about adult and peer attention — they just lack the skills to interact well and often develop maladaptive habits in trying to cope with challenges they are not skilful in facing.” 49
Figure 5 Distribution of Responses for Item “Autism is a neurologically based disorder” 50
Figure 6 Distribution of Responses for Item “Current scientific research/evidence concerning comorbidity of autism with anxiety and depression.” 51
Figure 7 Distribution of Responses for Item “Sensory sensitivities of children with autism and understanding of sensory processing” 52
Figure 8 Distribution of Responses for Item “Relational Frame Theory” 61
Figure 9 Distribution of Responses for Item “Other strategies to teach concepts that may be difficult for the child.” 63
Figure 10 Distribution of Responses for Item “Use of special seating (rifton chair, cushion on chair, etc.)” 64
Figure 11 Distribution of Responses for Item “Suspended equipment” 64
Figure 12 Distribution of Responses for Item “Social Stories™” 65
Figure 13 Distribution of Responses for Item “TEACCH strategies” 66
Figure 14 Distribution of Responses for Item “Floortime” 66
Figure 15 Distribution of Responses for Item “Sign language” 67
Figure 16 Distribution of Responses for Item “Augmentative communication devices” 68
Figure 17 Figure 18 Distribution of Responses for Item “Experimental design” Distribution of Responses for Item “To avoid surprises” 71 72