Autism is currently listed among some of the most common psychological disorders by which learners are affected (Gilmartin, 2014). Which is even more disturbing, the rates of SD development among learners worldwide have been on the rise since 2000 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). ASD is traditionally determined as the mental disorder that prevents one from engaging in social interactions and communicating one’s ideas, as well as perceiving information. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a group of developmental disorders. ASD includes a wide range, ‘a spectrum,’ of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability” (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.). One might argue that the specified definition is rather loose. However, the disorder manifests itself in a variety of forms (e.g., self-imposed social isolation, deficiency of social-emotional reciprocity, inability to start and maintain relationships, to name just a few), which makes a more accurate definition problematic (McCleery, 2015).
Characteristics of ASD and the Problems That It Entails
ASD manifests itself in many ways depending on a variety of extraneous factors. The ways in which ASD impacts a student can be viewed from several perspectives, including the changes in the patterns of social interaction and the ways in which one receives and processes information (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.). As a rule, the behavioral specifics of ASD include the following:
- repetitive actions and routines;
- presence of “overly focused interests” (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.);
- presence of lasting interests that are not typically viewed as worth paying close attention to (e.g., numbers, side facts, etc.);
- inability to manage conflicts in a constructive and non-violent manner.
In other words, a student with ASD is likely to have a problem communicating with peers and teachers. The paper, therefore, will help evaluate the effects that autism programs have on ASD learners’ progress. Furthermore, the best framework for managing ASD students’ needs will be designed.
Teaching children with autism remains a challenge despite the creation of numerous programs (Green & Dawn, 2013; Tanet et al., 2016). A comparison of the existing frameworks may help create the ultimate approach that will improve the situation.
Research Significance and Questions
It is expected that the study will help determine the components of an improved program for children with autism. The goal of the paper, therefore, is to consider the elements that a perfect program for ASD learners must include. The following research questions will have to be answered:
- How the incorporation of academic and behavioral elements will help improve students’ outcomes?
- What elements of an academic and behavioral program must be used to design the ultimate approach toward teaching ASD students?
- What effects will each of the academic and behavioral elements have on the students’ progress?
- How does the cooperation between teachers and administrators help improve the academic performance of ASD learners?
Previous Research Addressing the Issue: Critical Overview
The issue of managing autism in education has been explored quite extensively since recently (Radwan & Cataltepe, 2016). The requirement to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population, including students from all possible social, cultural, and health-related backgrounds predetermined the emergence of a range of frameworks allowing teachers to provide ASD learners with the same educational services as the rest of the students (Sun & Huang, 2016).
The behavioral interpretation of ASD students’ needs has been popular among teachers for quite a while (Linstead et al., 2016). However, it has been recently suggested that the issue of ASD students in the school setting should be explored from an academic perspective as well (Tan et al., 2014). A combined approach toward viewing the problem can be deemed as more efficient since the nature of the problems associated with teaching ASD students is rooted in both their cognitive issues and their problems regarding social interactions (Elicin & Kaya, 2015; Luicelli, 2015). Particularly, the fact that teachers have to face the problems of aggression displayed by ASD students deserves to be brought up (Randel et al., 2015). Numerous studies point to the fact that, without a combination of the academic and behavioral frameworks, an ASD-related program is practically doomed to a failure (Barbeau, McLaughlin, & Neyman, 2015; Randel et al., 2015; Tan et al., 2014).
Behavioral Approaches. Focusing on the Conflict Management
Behavioral approaches have been in use as the means of addressing the needs of children with ASD since the 1970s. The Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) can be viewed as the groundbreaking framework that altered the landscape of ASD treatment. The analysis was developed at the University of Washington. The framework was first used as the means of addressing not only ASD issues but also other issues from psychological concerns to mental disorders (Fani-Panagiota, 2015). Being pragmatic and analytical, as well as allowing therapists to incorporate the latest technological advances, the framework soon gained immense popularity (Hedley et al., 2016). The reasons for including ABA concern the necessity to manage aggression to which children with autism are prone. According to the existing definition, the subject matter should be referred to as “a well-established treatment for the symptoms and behaviors commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder” (Linstead et al., 2016, p. 571). ABA helps shed light on the way in which learning takes place as far as the education of an ABS student is concerned (Larsson, 2013). For instance, the application of ABA helps identify the environment in which students feel most comfortable and, therefore, will learn actively (Gena, Galanis, Alai-Rosales, & Michalopoulou, 2014). As a result, the quality of the learning process can be improved significantly (Hedley et al., 2016). Particularly, the reason for applying the identified strategy concerns helping learners develop conflict management skills. Furthermore, the premises for promoting lifelong learning and the further successful acquisition of other skills by the student can be created (Zenko, 2014). By including ABA into the set of strategies for managing the needs of ASD students, one will be able to help learners modify their behavior so that they could control their aggression levels and, therefore, engage in a successful academic process.
Furthermore, to support the ABA framework, one will have to consider the behavioral approach that will help bring down the levels of students’ aggression by introducing physical exercises into the curriculum (Chouhan & Sharma, 2017). Exercises (ECE) as an EBP framework will have to be incorporated into the set of strategies that educators will use to manage the needs of ASD learners (Ivy & Schreck, 2016). Thus, the aggression levels re bound to drop, therefore, allowing learners to engage in the academic process. At this point, though, one must admit that no direct connection between physical exercises and the academic performance of the students has been found so far (Chouhan & Sharma, 2017). Nevertheless, ECE will allow reducing the levels of aggression in ASD learners, as another study explains (Ivy & Schreck, 2016). Consequently, the teacher will be able to remove one of the crucial negative factors affecting the learners’ progress from the classroom environment – particularly, the students will not be inclined to violent behavior (Sorensen & Zarrett, 2014; Ivy & Schreck, 2016). It is important that the identified approaches should be used in tandem. As a result, the levels of aggression are bound to drop among ASD students, and they will be able to engage in the learning process.
Academic Approaches. Simplicity and the Emphasis on Communication
Legibility and ease of understanding should be viewed as another two indispensable elements of a classroom in which children with autism and students with ASD study (Kidder & McDonnell, 2015). Furthermore, it is desirable that the items in the classroom should have no more than three purposes so that the students could not get confused or distracted. Thus, the process of educating the learners and helping them train the necessary skills is bound to become successful (Miller & Meyers, 2015).
In addition to the TEACCH program, which will serve as the basis for the development of a teaching strategy for meeting the needs of ASD learners, one will have to consider the evidence-based framework that could allow introducing supportive elements, e.g., technology, into the classroom environment. The use of iPads should be interpreted as an example of applying IT technology to solve the problems associated with the learners’ understanding of the topic of the lesson and meeting the set standards. Therefore, the technology-oriented evidence-based approach will make the second part of the academic framework.
The second framework that will be used as a part of the academic approach is known as the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). The framework was introduced in 2000s and was instantly viewed as an opportunity to help ASD learners gain the necessary academic skills through the active use of visuals. Furthermore, students engages in self-cognition by learning more about their communicative patterns. As a result, the foundation for building academic confidence and improving the learning skills can be created (Elicin & Kaya, 2015).
Collaborative Nature of the Framework. How Teachers and Administrators Can Cooperates
The collaborative approach implying that educators and administrators should join their efforts in an attempt to provide ASD students with more opportunities is bound to have a tremendous effect on the learners’ performance, motivation, and overall progress (Clinton, 2015). In fact, the identified improvement is likely to concern not only the academic progress of ASD learners in the context of a particular institution but also their performance in other domains of their life (McAllister & Maguire, 2013). Moreover, it is assumed that the application of the framework described above will contribute to developing independence in ASD students as far as their cognitive processes are concerned (Sun & Huang, 2016). In other words, the target population may be able to engage in self-directed learning to acquire relevant skills and knowledge successfully (Radwan & Cataltepe, 2016). Therefore, it is crucial that teachers and administrators should focus on the creation of the environment in which ASD learners could feel comfortable (Causton & Theoharis, 2013).
According to a recent study, the framework that was a result of a collaborative combination of ABA and TEACCH and named IDEAL was deemed as quite successful and, therefore, worth applying to the context of the educational setting, with an overall agreement with the way in which the authors assigned each category of ABA and TEACCH to the IDEAL framework being 70.2% (Callahan et al., 2016). In other words, the model, while offering to incorporate the elements of the two approaches, is aimed at treating autism as opposed to considering it a unique set of cultural characteristics of the learner. As a result, the misinterpretation of the learners’ needs may occur. To avoid the identified problem, one must consider ABA’s interpretation of autism as a set of characteristics of the student’s learning style as opposed to an actual disease. Furthermore, the identified interpretation of the disorder must become the foundation for further decision-making in the teaching process. The TEACCH-based strategy, thus, will be the first ingredient of the academic constituent of the program. The concept known as structured environment should be viewed as the primary means of approaching the problem and addressing the needs of children with autism in the school setting (Rahn, Coogle, Hanna, & Levellen, 2016; Kraglund-Gauthier, Young, & Kell, 2014). The concept implies that a specific routine must be established (Rahn, et al., 2016). As a result, the students will feel comfortable and, therefore, able to immerse in the educational process (McMurray & Pierson, 2016).
Furthermore, not only teachers but also administrators will have to take the academic and behavior strategies into account. Particularly, while teachers control the level of physical activity and aggression in ASD learners, the administrators will shape the school curriculum so that the increase in the frequency of physical activities should not affect the rest of the subjects (Cook, Tankersley, & Landrum, 2013).
The relationship between teachers and administrators should also be viewed through the lens of professional development of both (Koegel & LaZebnik, 2014). Encouraging progress, acquiring new knowledge, and training essential skills is crucial to make sure that teachers and administrators should be able to cater to the needs of ASD learners. Teachers and educators should cooperate to identify current gaps in their knowledge and fill them accordingly (Clinton, 2015). As a result, innovative approaches to meeting the needs of ASD and children with autism will be designed and implemented successfully (Koegel & LaZebnik, 2014). Peer education among teachers and administrators must become the foundation for managing the needs of ASD learners (Koegel & LaZebnik, 2014). In fact, the emphasis on the knowledge management between teachers and administrators serves as the foil for the further promotion of social goals (Shetgiri, Espelage, & Carrol, 2015). For instance, the idea of social accepting children with autism can be reinforced in the contemporary educational setting. As a result, the instances of social ostracism can be prevented (Shetgiri et al., 2015).
The focus on the spatial design of the learning environment is not the only area where teachers and administrators could collaborate to produce better learning outcomes in children with autism. Researches point to the fact that parental involvement and family support are crucial for children with autism as learners (Markey, 2015; Causton & Theoharis, 2013; Todd, Beamer, & Goodreau, 2014; Sun & Huang, 2016). Furthermore, parental involvement will help teachers explain to parents how they can promote academic development of the learners in the home setting. As long as ASD students have a chance to train the newly acquired academic skills not only at school but also at home, at the same time receiving active family support, a significant improvement in their progress is expected (Cook et al., 2013). Furthermore, administrators may help teachers establish a contact with parents of ASD students (Giangreco, Doyle, & Suter, 2014). There is no secret that family support is one of the primary factors that determine the success of ASD students in the school environment. Therefore, parental involvement, as well as family support, in a more general sense, is crucial to the overall performance of learners with ASD (Wilczenski, 2014). Administrators, in their turn, are capable of setting the foundation for a successful and continuous dialogue between the target audiences by arranging meetings with parents and developing the communication channels through which parents will be able to receive feedback about the academic progress of their child, as well as detailed instructions regarding their impact on the learner’s progress (Clarke, Jones, & Yssel, 2016). As a result, the foil for the further successful development of the student can be created (Trino, Pasta, & Giovanna, 2016). Additionally, the incorporation of specific elements that will make the learning process easier for ASD students should be considered by administrators and discussed between them and the teachers working in the facility (Clarke et al., 2016). Specifically, when considering the unique needs of ASD students and the specifics of the classroom environment that they require, one must bear in mind that the target audience is easily distracted or upset by unexpected changes in the classroom setting (Clinton, 2015). Therefore, using easily recognizable elements that are incorporated in the classroom setting on a regular basis and do not need consistent change should be viewed as the foundation for the appropriate strategy (Zenko, 2014).
Last but definitely not least, the fact that administrators will help incorporate assistive technology in the educational process deserves to be mentioned (Stranger, Mims, Wood, & Ahlgrim-Delzell, 2016). ASD learners need extensive visual and verbal support in the course of studying (Radwan & Cataltepe, 2016). An application in an IT device with a simple interface and basic functions will serve as a perfect means of offering ASD learners an opportunity to explore a specific issue in-depth (Banerjee, Dey, & Bhaumik, 2015). Administrators, in their turn, will be able to create the environment in which the application of IT tools will be possible (Radwan & Cataltepe, 2016).
Thus, a gradual improvement in the target audience’s academic score can be expected after a program incorporating educational, administrative, and behavioral elements is designed (Stasolla, Boccasini, Perilli, Damiani, & Albano, 2015). As a result, the premises for a comprehensive evaluation of the learners’ efficacy can be built (Morse, 2010). The collaboration between teachers and administrators will allow altering the curriculum so that the needs of ASD learners could be met in a more efficient manner. While administrators will be concerned with building the environment in which autistic children will feel comfortable, teachers will focus on the motivational aspect of the learners’ performance. Consequently, a gradual improvement in ASD students performance can be expected.
When meeting the needs of ASD learners, a teacher must make sure that the environment for successful knowledge acquisition is created. The identified goal includes the identification of not only academic but also behavioral characteristics of learners. Furthermore, a strong emotional connection must be established between a teacher and a student. Thus, the prerequisites for ASD students to acquire the relevant skills and knowledge, as well as develop independence in learning, can be created successfully.
Herein lies the significance of combining the academic and behavioral frameworks into a single program that will allow enhancing the learners’ performance. By addressing not only cognitive but also behavioral problems faced by ASD students, one will be able to prevent the instances of misunderstanding, as well as enhance the process of knowledge and skills acquisition by learners. Consequently, it is crucial to provide learners with an opportunity to channel their aggression into physical activities and provide them with a chance to acquire the necessary academic skills. A combination of behavioral and academic approaches will serve as the foundation for creating the tool that will help meet the needs of ASD students successfully.
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