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IES Grant

Title: Making Professional Development Work for Preschool Classroom Teams Serving Students with ASD: Adapting a PD Model Using Normalization Process Theory
Center: NCSER Year: 2020
Principal Investigator: Dykstra Steinbrenner, Jessica Awardee: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Program: Early Intervention and Early Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 Years (07/01/2020 - 06/30/2024) Award Amount: $1,399,972
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A200188

Co-Principal Investigators: Watson, Linda; Reszka, Stephanie

Purpose: This project aims to develop and test an adapted professional development (PD) model to be used with the Advancing Social-communication And Play (ASAP) intervention, which is an intervention that focuses on improving early social communication and play skills of preschool children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Research suggests that current PD models may not sufficiently improve educator practice and student outcomes or lead to sustained implementation. To address this, the project will iteratively develop ASAP Professional Development for Preschool Teams (PD-ASAP), which will be a model grounded in Normalization Process Theory, an implementation science approach used in complex health interventions. The PD model aims to be more feasible for preschool educational teams, more effective in changing educator practices (including ASAP implementation), and to enhance student outcomes. The pilot study will examine the impact of PD-ASAP on educator burnout, self-efficacy, and adherence to ASAP fidelity as well as on student classroom engagement, social-communication, and play skills. The pilot study will also include a cost analysis of the PD-ASAP model.

Project Activities: This project will develop a PD model for ASAP (PD-ASAP) and test the promise of the model for improving teacher and student outcomes for preschool classrooms with children with ASD. The study will include three phases: (1) feedback and adaptations, (2) design experimentation, and (3) a pilot study using a randomized controlled trial.

Products: The primary products of this project include a fully developed adapted PD model to be used with the ASAP intervention. The project will also result in peer-reviewed publications and presentations as well as additional dissemination products that reach education stakeholders such as practitioners and policymakers.

Structured Abstract

Settings: The research will take place in preschool classrooms in North Carolina.

Sample: Participants in Phase 1 include an estimated 64 previous and potential end users (including educational team members, administrators, and parents of students with ASD) and expert advisory board members. Phase 2 will include 24 preschool educators and approximately 18 students with ASD. Phase 3 participants will include 80 preschool educators and approximately 60 students with ASD.

Intervention: The research team anticipates that the PD-ASAP model will consist of six steps—orientation, initial planning, initial training, implementation, coaching, and booster training. PD-ASAP will incorporate activities, strategies, and tools that address core components of the Normalization Process Theory to improve the learning, use, and sustainability of the ASAP intervention. ASAP is a manualized intervention with two content components (social-communication and play) and two context components (1:1 and group) and is intended to be a supplemental intervention that can be embedded into preschool classrooms serving children with ASD. It is a process-oriented approach that uses evidence-based practices and data-based decision making to support preschoolers with ASD in moving through a developmental hierarchy of social-communication and play skills.

Research Design and Methods: In Phase 1, the research team will use interviews, surveys, and focus groups to develop the PD. In Phase 2, the team will use design experimentation and rapid iterations to test and revise PD-ASAP. The pilot study, in Phase 3, will employ a cluster randomized trial in which schools will be randomly assigned to one of two groups – PD-ASAP or ASAP with the manual only. The team will examine the efficacy of PD-ASAP in improving educator outcomes (ASAP fidelity, self-efficacy, burnout) and student outcomes (engagement, social-communication, play). During this phase, the team will use the ingredients method to calculate the costs of implementation for each group.

Control Condition: For the pilot study, the control condition will implement ASAP using only the manual, which includes a brief video training.

Key Measures: Measures used in Phase 1 will include researcher-developed interviews, surveys and focus groups. Phase 2 will include a measure of educator fidelity of implementation of ASAP (researcher-developed ASAP-FOI), student joint engagement (Joint Engagement Coding), and educator ratings of child social-communication and play (researcher-developed, video-anchored rating tool used in previous ASAP studies). Phase 3measures will include educator measures of ASAP-FOI as a proximal outcome, and teacher self-efficacy (Autism Self-Efficacy for Teachers) and burnout (Maslach Burnout Inventory – Educator Survey) as distal outcomes. For student outcomes, the project will use the same measure of student joint attention as well as social-communication and play as measured by the Brief Observation of Social Communication Change.

Data Analytic Strategy: In Phase 1, the research team will use the Rapid Assessment Process to synthesize the mixed methods data, a process that combines deductive and inductive data analysis to triangulate the information. Phase 2 will use weekly design experimentation meetings to review data and make iterative changes to the PD-ASAP model. Phase 3, the pilot study, will use hierarchical linear models to account for student nesting within schools to examine differences between the two groups. The CostOut tool will be used to estimate start-up and maintenance costs of PD-ASAP and ASAP at student, staff, school, and district levels.

Related Projects:Social Communication and Symbolic Play Intervention for Preschoolers With Autism (R324B070056); Advancing Social-Communication and Play (ASAP): An Intervention Program for Preschoolers with Autism (R324A110256); Promoting ASAP Collaboration through Technology (PACT): An Intervention Modification to Enhance Home-School Collaboration (R324A170151)