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IES Grant

Title: Successful Transition in the Early School Years for Children with Autism
Center: NCSER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Blacher, Jan Awardee: University of California, Riverside
Program: Autism Spectrum Disorders      [Program Details]
Award Period: 7/1/2011–6/30/2014 Award Amount: $1,179,553
Goal: Exploration Award Number: R324A110086

Purpose: Research has demonstrated that the quality of children's relationships with their teachers is related to their subsequent academic and social adjustment. This research, however, focuses primarily on typically developing children. The quality of student-teacher relationships (STR) may be particularly important for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities because they are less likely to be successful in building positive relationships that may help protect them against later school adjustment problems. Thus, research is needed to explore early STRs for students with ASD and factors that contribute to positive STR quality in this population.

This study examines how young children with ASD adjust to early schooling, focusing on STR quality. The purpose is to investigate how child characteristics relate to STR quality for students with ASD; how STR quality, in turn, relates to the child's school outcomes; and how parent and school factors moderate these relationships. The research team will also explore parents' perceptions of their children's transition to school in order to understand the challenges faced by children with ASD and potentially helpful influences on the transition.

Project Activities: There will be two annual cohorts, with each cohort containing children starting in prekindergarten, kindergarten, or first grade. After being screened for eligibility, participants will be assessed at three time-points for each cohort—fall, spring, and winter of the following year. At each assessment point, children will be directly assessed on academic skills with a focus on language and literacy. The parent and child will be observed during a literacy task to measure the quality of the interaction, the parent's engagement with the child's literacy development and the child's interest in reading. The parent will also be interviewed to assess perceived school factors such as the quality of learning opportunities and the degree of child engagement in school. In addition, parents and teachers will complete a series of questionnaires at each time point to measure a variety of factors such as the child's social skills and behavior and the parent's involvement in the school.

Products: Products include published reports and presentations on how children with ASD adjust to early schooling; the quality of their student-teacher relationships (STRs); the association between child characteristics and STR quality and between STR quality and school adjustment; and the identification of parental and school factors that moderate these relationships. The knowledge obtained from this project will be used to guide the adaptation of an existing program for supporting school transition to be relevant for students with ASD.

Structured Abstract

Setting: School districts in Southern California and the Boston, Massachusetts metropolitan area will be involved. Direct assessments of children, with their parents, will take place at the child development centers on both campuses (the Graduate School of Education at the University of California-Riverside and the child study lab at the University of Massachusetts-Boston).

Population: Two cohorts comprised of 180 students identified with ASD who are in prekindergarten, kindergarten, or first grade when the study begins will participate. Half of the students across each grade will be recruited at each site. Eligible children include those with autism who are without severe intellectual disability. A parent and teacher of each child will also participate. Children and families will be representative of their geographical region in ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

Intervention: Not applicable.

Research Design and Methods: This is a two-cohort, cross-sectional (3 age groups/years of school), longitudinal (three assessments) design. Laboratory-based assessments of children and parents will be supplemented by parent interviews and parent- and teacher-completed questionnaires. For each cohort, assessments will take place in the fall and spring of the first academic year and in the winter of the following year.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: Screening measures include the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-III), as well as the Autism Diagnostic Interview–Revised (ADI-R) for those children who lack a confirmatory diagnosis from a nonschool professional. Child functioning will be measured with a variety of direct assessments and rating scales, including the Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language, Children's Communication Checklist, Woodcock Johnson–III, Test of Cognitive Abilities and Achievement, and Test of Early Reading Achievement–III. Further, the child's participating parent will be interviewed and the interaction between parent and child will be observed during a shared literacy task. Parents will also complete a background questionnaire and a series of rating scales to measure their child's symptom severity, behavior problems, social skills, and their own involvement in the child's classroom. Teachers will complete a classroom climate questionnaire to assess characteristics of the classroom, students, and teacher training. They will also complete rating scales to measure the child's behavior and social skills, the student-teacher relationship, parent involvement with school activities, child's academic engagement, and strategies they use to interact with their students.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will use a variety of analytical techniques, including structural equation modeling, hierarchical linear modeling, and latent growth curve modeling to examine the various relationships among constructs over time. This includes examination of a longitudinal model in which child characteristics influence student-teacher relationships which, in turn, affect the child's school outcomes. A variety of family and school factors will be tested as potential moderators of these relationships.


Book chapter

Blacher, J., Baker, B.L., and Berkovits, L. (2013). Family Perspectives on Child Intellectual Disability: Views From the Sunny Side of the Street. In M.L. Wehmeyer (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Disability. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195398786.013.013.0013

Zeedyk, S., Cohen, S.R., and Blacher, J. (2014). Syndrome-Specific Impact on Parental Well-Being: Autism Compared. In V. Preedy (Ed.), Comprehensive Guide to Autism (pp. 625–650). New York: Springer. doi:10.1007/978–1–4614–4788–7_178

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Eisenhower, A., Blacher, J., and Bush, H. (2015). Longitudinal Associations Between Externalizing Problems and Student-Teacher Relationship Quality for Young Children With ASD. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 9: 163–173. Full text

Eisenhower, A., Bush, H., and Blacher, J. (2015). Student-Teacher Relationships and Early School Adaptation of Children With ASD: A Conceptual Framework. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 31(3): 256–296. doi:10.1080/15377903.2015.1056924

Zeedyk, S. M., Cohen, S. R., Eisenhower, A., and Blacher, J. (2015). Perceived Social Competence and Loneliness among Young Children with ASD: Child, Parent and Teacher Reports. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(2): 436–449. doi:10.1007/s10803–015–2575–6 Full text