Supporting Paraprofessionals' Use of Evidence-Based Practices for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Co-Principal Investigators: Ann Cox; Ann Sam
Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop the Supporting paraprofessionals-Teachers use of Evidence-based practices with Learners having Autism (STELA) program, a professional development intervention targeting the knowledge and skills that paraprofessionals need to implement evidence-based practices (EBPs) for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Increasingly, paraprofessionals have the responsibility of delivering instruction and intervention to students with ASD under the supervision of the special education teacher. However, often paraprofessionals need additional training in order to implement EBPs to meet the needs of these students. The current project aims to address this gap by designing a professional development program, STELA, to support paraprofessionals' use of EBPs for students with ASD and ultimately improve student engagement and learning.
Project Activities: Research activities will be conducted in three phases. In Phase 1, the research team will develop and adapt online professional development modules related to fundamental EBPs for students with ASD (i.e., reinforcement, prompting, modeling, visual supports, task analysis, and time delay). Modules will be developed and refined based on input from stakeholder focus groups and observations of paraprofessionals' current use of EBPs in classroom settings. During Phase 2, researchers will use an iterative research approach to further refine the intervention and gather data on its feasibility and usability. During Phase 3, the research team will examine the potential for efficacy of each module with a multiple baseline single-case design study across classrooms/paraprofessionals.
Products: The products of this project will be a fully developed professional development program to improve paraprofessional's use of EBPs for students with ASD as well as peer-reviewed publications and presentations.
Setting: This project will take place in elementary schools in North Carolina that enroll children with ASD.
Sample: During Phase 1, focus groups will be conducted with approximately seven individuals from each of the following stakeholder groups: paraprofessionals, special education teachers, general education teachers, building and district special education administrators, and parents of students with ASD. Observational data will also be collected from ten paraprofessionals during Phase 1. In Phase 2, 4 dyads of paraprofessionals and teachers and 12 students with ASD will participate. In Phase 3, 6 dyads of paraprofessionals and teachers and 24 students with ASD will participate. For the dyads, half will be in self-contained classrooms with special education teachers and the other half in general education classrooms.
Intervention: The STELA program is based on modules previously developed for teachers by the National Professional Development Center (NPCD) on ASD. STELA will include an initial online module and 3-hour workshop for teachers and paraprofessionals focused on characteristics of students with ASD and roles and responsibilities of teachers and paraprofessionals in the classroom. In addition, STELA will include online training modules on six fundamental teaching practices for students with ASD (i.e., reinforcement, prompting, modeling, visual supports, task analysis, and time delay) as well as opportunities for paraprofessionals to apply these practices with feedback and coaching from their supervising teachers. Training in each of the fundamental EBPs will be rolled out over a 3-week period. Paraprofessionals will independently complete the online module for a specific EBP; the special education teacher will model use of the EBP and then the paraprofessional will practice implementing the EBP with multiple students or across multiple instructional activities and receive feedback from the special education teacher.
Research Design and Methods: The research will be conducted in three phases. In Phase 1, researchers will adapt the six pre-existing modules from the NPDC based on feedback from stakeholder focus groups as well as observations of paraprofessionals' current practice. In Phase 2, an iterative approach will be used to gather information on the intervention's feasibility and usability and inform further revisions. Specifically, researchers will work in two inclusive classes and two self-contained classes in two elementary schools with special education teachers and paraprofessionals. Teachers and paraprofessionals will participate in STELA as described above. Observational data, EBP fidelity checklists, feedback forms, student engagement data, and an implementation index will be collected to evaluate the fidelity and feasibility of the program and inform further revisions. In Phase 3, researchers will conduct a multiple baseline single-case design study across three paraprofessional/teacher dyads in self-contained classrooms and a replication with three more dyads in inclusive general education classrooms to evaluate the program's promise for improving paraprofessionals' implementation of EBPs and student engagement. Across both studies, researchers will collect data on the implementation of the overall program, social validity, paraprofessionals' fidelity of EBP implementation, and student outcomes of engagement and performance on learning tasks.
Control Condition: In the single-case design pilot study, paraprofessionals will serve as their own control.
Key Measures: The primary paraprofessional outcome will be measured using EBP fidelity checklists to assess paraprofessionals' implementation of each EBP covered in the modules. Student outcomes will be assessed using the Behavior Observation of Students in Schools (to assess student engagement) and paraprofessional-reported student performance during instructional sessions using the EBPs. In addition, the researchers will create an implementation index to provide a summary measure of the degree to which the entire professional development program was implemented. Social validity will be assessed using a modified version of the Intervention Rating Profile-15 completed by teachers and paraprofessionals.
Data Analytic Strategy: Content analysis will be used with focus group data from Phase 1. Data from Phase 2 on EBP fidelity, implementation of the program, and student engagement will be analyzed descriptively to inform changes to the intervention. For the Phase 3 single-case design studies, researchers will use visual analysis to detect changes in the level or trend in paraprofessional and student outcomes and calculate between-subjects standardized effect sizes to determine overall significance.
Related Projects: An Efficacy Study of the School-based National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders Model (NPDC) (R324A150047)