David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, Kaitlyn Evoy, BA, Sarah Cummins, MA, BCBA, and Kate McKenna, MEd, MSEd, BCBA, LBA
Association for Science in Autism Treatment
The Association for Science in Autism Treatment strives to promote evidence-based practices for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in all aspects of their life, including in the classroom. The reality is, of all the professionals and specialists in the field of education, teachers have the largest amount of time with children with ASD over the course of their formative years. Despite this fact, teachers often have the least amount of formal training in the area of autism.
Most special education programs prepare teacher candidates for a wide variety of positions, working with students with an array of needs, abilities, and required accommodations. The reasoning is simple: only a relatively smaller percentage of candidates in the program will work with students who require substantial levels of support. This reality molds their training programs to prepare future teachers for their more likely positions, working with students with high-incidence disabilities. This begs two questions: Are university students who exit special education training programs truly trained to educate learners with complex needs? And, do employers (e.g., schools) have the expectation that new teachers should come with this education and training?
Legislation has aimed at holding special education teachers to high standards, with specific wording calling for the necessity for “highly qualified” teachers. This performance expectation is hard to reach. While people in power (e.g., legislators, politicians, administrators) want schools to hire teachers who have high qualifications, the reality is that it is challenging for teachers to achieve this status. Special education teachers often lack support in the form of staffing, curriculum, administration backing, supplies, and the planning time needed to prepare and provide for what their students need. In order to successfully teach their students, special education teachers often use their own time to seek professional development, support, and advice. The array of information on treatments, approaches, and therapies is overwhelming. The resources are often lacking in evidence, difficult to understand, or simply do not exist. Combine these truths with the stress and burnout this career brings, and teachers are set up to struggle daily. Yet, the pressure on teachers to be “highly qualified” remains.
We acknowledge that students with autism are educated in a variety of settings, and that teachers are subsequently expected to work in a variety of settings. General education teachers may have students with autism in their classrooms, with and without paraprofessionals for support. Special education teachers could be working in a more supportive role in a general education classroom or pulling students out to work in a resource room. Another scenario is working in self-contained special education classrooms with no paraprofessional support, or they may have to supervise a team of support staff. Teachers in classrooms with paraprofessionals may be responsible for educating classroom staff about autism and training them in specific intervention strategies. This is despite a lack of substantial training about autism and limited training in supervising and working with support staff. Furthermore, many teachers are directing large numbers of paraprofessionals while still retaining direct teaching responsibilities, not to mention that staff shortages may require daily triaging to ensure that students are adequately covered.
Additionally, teachers in both general and special education settings may find themselves facing challenges that were not addressed in their college or university coursework or their student teaching experience. For example, snack and lunch time may be complicated by issues of feeding disorders or food refusal. Families may require school support with teaching toileting skills or addressing school refusal. Challenging behavior may disrupt lessons and cause problems during transitions. Teachers can be expected to incorporate the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices into the curriculum and daily routines of the classroom.
ASAT can be a bright light in a landscape of confusion. With explicit aim to offer resources for a wide variety of professions, including teachers, our information is comprehensive, easily organized, and backed by science. Gone are the days when teachers had to rely solely on advice from colleagues, blogs, or Pinterest to find intervention strategies and techniques. ASAT gathers and creates information about evidence-based practices that are easy to read on a platform that is easy to navigate – and it is all free.
It is our hope that this article serves to provide a comprehensive list of resources offered to teachers of students with autism. The links presented here focus on solutions to a variety of challenges including increasing independence, developing skills, augmenting inclusion opportunities, increasing community integration, preparing for adulthood, as well as other topics of interest to family members and other service providers who work with this population. We anticipate this list of offerings will continue to grow. In the future, we very much look forward to sharing new, innovative articles that are currently in development.
Prior to sharing many of our offerings that are well suited for teachers, we would first like to highlight three broader initiatives:
- ASAT publishes a monthly newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, containing reviews of published research, books, and consumer resources (e.g., training videos, websites, or resource lists like this one on promoting success at the dentist), interviews with leaders in the field of autism treatment for older children and adults, as well as parent advocates, answers to questions about important clinical issues related to education and treatment, tips to differentiate evidence-based options from others marketed as panaceas, and more. In addition, you can find links to the current newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, as well as past issues in the Archived Newsletters section. You can read more about Science in Autism Treatment and its diverse content and features here and also subscribe for free.
- ASAT’s website (www.asatonline.org) offers resources for teachers and other educational personnel (e.g., lists of apps to use in the classroom, bullying prevention resources, as well as lists of print resources like this one that helps classmates learn about autism). We also provide resources geared towards parents and medical professionals. As part of our vision to provide accurate information, we update our content to reflect up-to-date research and evaluations of new treatments. Our website also has interviews that reflect the perspectives of different stakeholders, including parents. We are pleased to share that we have launched a special page for teachers that lists articles topically.
- ASAT also has a 150-hour Externship program for students, professionals, and family members to gain experience in a not-for-profit organization while increasing their knowledge within the field of autism. Many of our past and current Externs are teachers or hold degrees in education (which include the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th authors of this article). Furthermore, many members of our Board of Directors and Professional Advisory Board possess teaching degrees and certificates.
In the remainder of this article, we describe many of our resources in greater detail as they relate to teachers and individuals with autism in school settings.
Science Corner offers user-friendly knowledge about scientific concepts to help our readers become savvier consumers. Recent published installments include topics such as making sense of the evidence, retraction of published research, pitfalls of circular reasoning, and conducting a comprehensive literature search. In order to evaluate research, claims, and educational interventions for students with autism spectrum disorders, it is crucial to understand and recognize the differences between science and pseudoscience. There is also a group of articles that evaluates whether or not specific treatments or fads are evidence-based (i.e., “Is There Science Behind That?”). Some of the topics teachers may encounter in their careers or be asked about by their students’ parents include Facilitated Communication, sensory diets, service dogs, and gluten-free/casein free diets.
Research Synopses, as its name implies, contains reviews of relevant studies related to autism. There, teachers can find quick summaries of complex research, helping them to save time in their review of literature on their journey to use evidence-based practices in the classroom. There is a growing list of specific psychological, educational, and therapeutic interventions. Some interventions have multiple studies referenced and reviewed. If teachers are looking for more information on specific interventions, including the evidence or lack thereof, they can find those as well. Applied behavior analysis has dozens of studies linked given the tremendous body of literature, including classroom applications of functional analysis, a meta-analysis on TEACCH, supporting appropriate transitions, and early intervention in public preschool and kindergarten to name a few. A section on effective procedures for teaching specific skills to individuals with autism covers studies ranging from the challenges and possibilities of teaching reading skills to students with autism, to communication interventions for minimally verbal children with autism. Because teachers often encounter stakeholders interested in non-evidence based, therapeutic, or biomedical treatments, ASAT addresses issues like the persistence of fad interventions such as facilitated communication, the lack of evidence supporting the rapid prompting method, and the results of a controlled trial regarding hyperbaric treatment for children with autism. Find the full gamut of research synopses available here.
Clinical Corner provides responses to frequently asked questions about autism treatment. This is a particularly content-rich area of the ASAT website which spans many critical issues related to teaching, such as use of reinforcement, effective interventions, behavior management, and issues impacting families. Examples of specific questions answered are related to topics such as the importance of early diagnosis, setting up an evidence-based program, and teaching children social skills. Questions posed by teachers working in the field are included within this section. Some of these cover subjects including, but not limited to, teaching WH questions, preparing students for fuller inclusion, and safety skills. See the full array of our Clinical Corner installments here.
Book and Resource Reviews
On our website you will find reviews of several useful books related to teaching and behavior management. In addition, you will find summaries of some available resources listed below topically. Many of these reviews are for books and resources that are available free of charge.
Autism Educational and Treatment Considerations
- A review of The complete guide to autism treatments 2nd Edition
- A review of Countering evidence denial and the promotion of pseudoscience in autism spectrum disorder
- A review of The persistence of fad interventions in the face of negative scientific evidence
- A review of Autism for public school administrators: What you need to know
- A review of The activity kit for babies and toddlers at risk
- A review of Autism: Start here, what families need to know (3rd Edition)
Parenting and Family Resources
- A review of Autism 24/7: A family guide to learning at home and in the community
- A review of Autism and the family: Understanding and supporting parents and siblings
- A review of Life as an autism sibling
- A review of Life Journey Through Autism: A parent’s guide to research
- A review of Blessed with autism: A parent’s guide to securing financial support for the treatment of children with autism
- A review of Broccoli Boot Camp: Basic training for parents of selective eaters
- A review of The power of positive parenting
- A review of Teaching social skills to people with autism: Best practices in individualizing interventions
- A review of Discrete-trials teaching with children with autism: A self-instruction manual
- A review of Focus on behavior analysis in education: Achievements, challenges, and opportunities
- A review of Activity schedules for children with autism: Teaching independent behavior
- A review of Applied behavior analysis and autism: An introduction
- A review of The function wheels
- A review of Elopement of children with autism: What we know, successful interventions, and practical tips for parents and caregivers
- An overview of ABA Ultimate Showdown Podcasts for Round 1 (IISCA vs. Traditional FA)
- A review of Punishment on trial
- A review of ABA tools of the trade: Easy data collection for the classroom
- A review of Compassionate care in behavior analytic treatment
- A review of Journey to community housing with supports
- A review of Finding your way: A college guide for students on the spectrum
- A review of Life Journey Through Autism: A guide for transition to adulthood
- A review of Working in the community: A guide for employers of individuals with autism spectrum disorders
ASAT’s Media Watch monitors mainstream media to identify published information about autism and autism treatments. Understanding that every media contribution has the potential to reach thousands of consumers and service providers, we support accurate media depictions of empirically-sound interventions. We also respond to inaccurate information about proposed treatments reported and, at times, promulgated by news outlets. You can review our 200+ published letters. Many of our letters focus on topics related to schools and teacher preparation. We have compiled a list of a few dozen letters written over the last 10 years that teachers may find interesting. These are organized topically below:
- ASAT responds to The New York Times’ Early treatment for autism is critical, new report says
- ASAT responds to news.com.au’s Mum Julia Coorey on surviving an autism diagnosis and importance of early diagnosis
- ASAT responds to NBC News’ Brain scans detect signs of autism in high-risk babies before age 1
- ASAT responds to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Children with autism spectrum disorder need more support during the pandemic (02/19/21)
- ASAT responds to The Conversation’s Report sparks concern about how schools support students with disabilities (6/12/17)
- ASAT responds to New Zealand Herald’s Opinion: Teach all teachers strategies for autistic children, Urges Autism NZ (4/12/17)
- ASAT responds to Autism Parenting Magazine’s, Simple ways you can Help strengthen the ASD sibling relationship (2/15/2017)
- ASAP Responds to kswo.com’s How autism affects the whole family (01/14/2016)
- ASAT responds to TheAtlantic.com’s The economic impact of autism on families 07/13/2012)
- ASAT responds to Examiner.com’s Reshaping public misconceptions of parenting a child with autism
- ASAT responds to abc.news.go.com’s How a child with autism became ‘His own man’ after treatment (02/08/2016)
- ASAT responds to ABC.net.au’s Hope for autistic teens: How applied behaviour analysis helped Ian Rogerson’s son overturn bleak prognosis (1/08/2015)
- ASAT responds to Bangor Daily News’ Old Town Athlete Honor Student shares story of overcoming ‘bleak diagnosis’ of autism (05/17/2014)
- ASAT responds to FoxPhilly.com’s Parents of autistic children worry what life will bring when they’re adults (04/01/2013)
- ASAT responds to Click on Detroit’s Ford aims to boost hiring of employees with autism (10/15/20)
- ASAT responds to lohud’s Spectrum Designs will provide opportunities for those on the autism spectrum (01/13/20)
- ASAT responds to ABC News’ (AU) Workers with autism recognized for unique skill set, ANZ recruiting nine new employees (3/5/2018)
- ASAT responds to Triblive.com’s Autism services hope to make inroads in workplace (04/24/2013)
- ASAT responds to MSNBC’s 1 in 3 autistic young adults lack jobs, education (04/07/2012)
Community Opportunities and Needs
- ASAT responds to Good Housekeeping’s Costco is hosting sensory-friendly shopping hours for people with autism (03/04/2017)
- ASAT responds to CNN’s Helping patients with autism navigate the stressful ER (05/22/2016)
Transition Concerns from School to Adulthood
- ASAT responds to The Inquirer’s Falling off the cliff (12/27/2017).
- ASAT responds to Psychologytoday.com’s Making severe autism visible (12/29/2015)
- ASAT responds to Portland Press-Herald’s Graduating to an uncertain fate (06/15/2011)
Please take a moment to explore other sections of our dedicated pages for teachers including our topical list of resources.
Citation for this article:
Celiberti, D. A., Evoy, K., Cummins, S, & McKenna, K. (2021). How ASAT supports special education and regular education teachers. Science in Autism Treatment, 18(5).