Educating young children with autism: a conflict over methodologies

Volmer, Lorna
Major Professor
Daniel J. Reschly
Committee Member
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There currently is controversy on how best to educate children with autism that focuses on preeminent leaders in the field of autism, their disparate views, and the requirement that all children with disabilities be provided with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The controversy has affected large numbers of children with autism, their families, and the school districts charged with educating them. Information detailing the elements of several nationally significant programs has been provided, including a review of the research supporting each program's efficacy. Two studies were initiated to explore the educational services provided to children with autism in Heartland Area Education Agency (AEA) 11, the largest AEA in the State of Iowa. The results of Study One suggest that generic special education programs may not meet the FAPE requirement for educating students with autism. In contrast, the children in Study Two did demonstrate a statistically significant increase in skills over a one year period. A critical difference between studies one and two was the implementation of teacher training. All the teachers of the students in study two had successfully completed a five day course, provided by Heartland AEA, on strategies to use in educating students with autism. Some of the teachers had received training under the TEACCH model and others in the evolving HAND in HAND model developed by Heartland. The two models share many common elements. Both models involve five intense days of training that furnish topical lectures followed by the opportunity for teachers to implement the techniques described in the lectures. They also afford teachers the opportunity to work with students with autism and both provide immediate constructive feedback to teachers from the trainer assigned to each child. The TEACCH and HAND in HAND models share common elements but the HAND in HAND model places a greater emphasis on behavioral techniques. The results suggest that when teachers implement the skills offered by the five-day training of either model, students are afforded a FAPE.