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Contributing to Change in Teacher Education? Assessing Student Teachers’ Attitudes Towards People with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Department of Educational Studies.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9637-5338
Canterbury Christ Church University, England.
University of Eastern Finland.
Canterbury Christ Church University, England.
Show others and affiliations
2016 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Theoretical framework, objectives and research questions

Inclusive education is advocated in school legislation in Sweden, Finland and England, and support for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is generally provided within the mainstream classroom. As ASD prevalence has risen markedly worldwide, and currently stands at approximately 1 in 100 (Autism Europe, 2016), it is likely that student teachers will encounter pupils with ASD during their practical placement, and subsequently, in the profession.

Representations of ASD, such as difficulties in social interaction and communication, can entail challenges for the pupil in the mainstream context and for adults in the community (Shereen & Geuts, 2015). For the teacher, ensuring the pupil’s inclusion requires knowledge about ASD and adequate support and intervention methods to meet the individual’s needs. Previous research has mainly examined teachers’ and student teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion of pupils with ASD (e.g.,McGregor & Campbell, 2001; Ross-Hill, 2009) and the accuracy of their knowledge and beliefs about ASD (e.g., Talib & Paulson, 2015).

Less attention has been paid to teachers’ attitudes towards ASD in general. Two recent studies have however examined student teachers’ (Park, Chitiyo, & Choi, 2010) and teacher’s attitudes (Park & Chitiyo, 2011) towards pupils with ASD. The studies found that both groups held positive attitudes towards children with ASD, yet women reported more positive attitudes than men. Further, in the student teacher group participants’ exposure to ASD and their academic major influenced their attitudes so that the students majoring in special education had more positive attitudes than students majoring in general education (Park et al., 2010). These studies have not however examined the mechanisms of attitude change (e.g., why does exposure lead to more positive attitudes), which the current study aims to explore.

Given that the majority of previous research has taken place in the USA, (e.g. Talib and Paulson, 2015);  there is an urgent  need to investigate student teachers’ attitudes towards ASD, particularly pupils with ASD,  in Europe, in order to ensure the continuing provision of high quality inclusive education in this context. Moreover, to our knowledge there are no previous studies clarifying whether differences exist in student teachers’ attitudes towards ASD across different European countries. This study aims to fill these gaps. The project represents a collaboration between psychology and special education faculty members at three European universities across Sweden, Finland and England. The purpose of this presentation is to present results of this ongoing interdisciplinary research project and obtain feedback and comments from the scientific community.

The research questions are:

  1. What are the attitudes of student teachers towards pupils with ASD?

  2. Are there differences in student teachers’ attitudes between Sweden, Finland, and England?

  3.  Is there any relationship between the student teachers’ gender, course of study, knowledge of ASD, exposure to ASD and their attitudes?

Methodology

The project utilizes a mixed method approach consisting of two stages. This paper will disseminate the results of the first stage, a cross-sectional survey investigating student teachers’ attitudes toward ASD, their hypothesized predictors (e.g., knowledge of ASD, level of contact with people who have ASD), and potential mediators (e.g., anxiety).

Participants will be students who are completing a teacher training course at each of the three universities conducting the research. These participants will complete the survey as part of a lecture on a closely related topic. Power analysis suggests that approximately 250 student teachers need to be recruited in each country to adequately test hypotheses (see below).  

Measures are derived from extant research on disability attitudes (e.g., Krahé & Altwasser, 2006) and utilise nine point Likert scales. In addition to closed measures, the survey also includes open-ended questions designed to elicit deeper responses from participants and gain rich insight into the thoughts, feelings and concerns that student teachers hold when educating pupils with ASD in the classroom.

The survey was designed in English, and subsequently translated into Swedish and Finnish by native speakers of each language. It has already been piloted in all three countries, with positive feedback about its intuitiveness and ease of comprehension for participants. In addition to addressing the research questions (above), the results of the survey will also be used to inform the second stage of the project, comprising in-depth interviews with student teachers about their experiences of educating pupils with ASD.

Expected outcomes

As this is an on-going research project with data being gathered between January and May 2016, the findings and literature-relevant discussion will be presented at the conference.  Data is currently being collected in all three countries. However, drawing on the findings of previous research (e.g., Park & Chitiyo, 2011), the following hypotheses can be made:

  1. Student teacher attitudes toward ASD will be positive overall.

  2. Female student teachers will hold more positive attitudes than males.

  3. Student teachers completing a special education focused teaching training course will hold more positive attitudes than those completing a general education focused one.

  4. Higher levels of prior contact with people who have ASD will be associated with more positive attitudes towards them.

In light of the paucity of research investigating student teacher attitudes in the European context, we make no specific hypotheses regarding potential differences between our samples.

Our pilot data suggest that the collective findings from this research project will encourage all student teachers to reflect on their attitudes towards all pupils with a special need or disability, as this was a general trend.  It is hoped that through this self-reflection attitudes towards all pupils with ASD or another disability or special educational need will positively impact on practice in the classroom. By investigating student teachers’ attitudes towards educating pupils diagnosed with ASD, and what may influence them, new knowledge can be generated. We aspire to promote improvement and influence teacher education policies in Sweden, Finland and England.

Intent of publication

It is intended that findings from the project contribute to at least one peer-reviewed article, to be disseminated in a high quality journal covering this area of interest, e.g., Autism, European Journal of Special Needs Education, International Journal of Inclusive Education, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, and The Teacher Educator.

References

Autism Europe. Prevalence rate of autism. (2016). Available from: http://www.autismeurope.org/about-autism/prevalence-rate-of-autism/

Krahé, B., & Altwasser, C. (2006). Changing negative attitudes towards persons with physicaldisabilities: An

     experimental intervention. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 16, 59-69.

 McGregor, E. & Campbell, E. (2001). The attitudes of teachers in Scotland to the integration of children with autism into mainstream schools. Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice, 5(2), 189–207.

Park, M. & Chitiyo, M. (2011). An Examination of Teacher Attitudes towards Children with Autism. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 11(1), 70–78.

Park, M., Chitiyo, M., & Choi, Y. S. (2010). Examining pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards children with autism in the USA. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 10(2), 107–114.

Ross-Hill, R. (2009). Teacher attitude towards inclusion practices and special needs students. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 9(3), 188–198.

Scheeren, A.M., & Geuts, H.M. (2015). Research on community intergration in autism spectrum disorder: Recommendations from research on psychosis.  Research in Autims Spectrum Disorders, 17, 1-12.

Talib.T.L., & Paulson, S. (2015). Differences in competence and beliefs about autism among teacher education students. The Teacher Educator (50)4, 240-256.                             

 

            

 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016.
Keywords [en]
Autism Spectrum Disorder, Student teachers, Disability Attitudes, Teacher Education, Inclusive Education
National Category
Humanities
Research subject
Special Education; Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-45523OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kau-45523DiVA, id: diva2:956605
Conference
European Conference on Educational Research - ECER 2016 22-26 August Dublin
Available from: 2016-08-30 Created: 2016-08-30 Last updated: 2017-10-17Bibliographically approved

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