Field testing an Australian model of practice for teaching young school-age students on the autism spectrum
Wendi Beamish, Annalise Taylor, Libby Macdonald, Stephen Hay, Madonna Tucker and Jessica Paynter
Background: Internationally, many mainstream teachers have identified that they lack the specialised knowledge and skills to adequately include and educate the increasing number of students on the autism spectrum in their classrooms.
Aims: We investigated the experiences and perceptions of Australian mainstream teachers who field-tested a validated Model of Practice designed to support their daily work with young school-aged students on the spectrum. This new online resource comprised 29 foundational research-informed practices, each accompanied by a 2-page practice brief.
Methods and procedures: A convergent parallel mixed-methods design used semi-structured interviews and surveys to gather data from a sample of teachers (n = 38) prior to and following an 8-week field-testing period. Differentiated levels of professional support to facilitate engagement with the model were provided, with teachers receiving either in-person support, online support, or no additional support.
Outcomes and results: A majority of teachers endorsed the practice model. Those who engaged with the model reported statistically significant increases in knowledge, confidence, and efficacy. Professional support facilitated teacher use of the model. No significant changes in practice use were found.
Conclusions and implications: This field-testing provides preliminary evidence of the applicability of the practice model in Australian early years classrooms. These findings have wider implications for the ways in which professional development can be targeted to promote research-informed teaching practice. What this paper adds This novel practice-based resource shows promise for building the capacity of mainstream teachers in educating young school-age students on the autism spectrum in the Australian context. Outcomes from this field testing confirm the usefulness of focusing on foundational teaching practices rather than single, stand-alone interventions. In addition, this research has highlighted the benefit of professional support in bridging the research-to-practice gap in autism education.