University of Massachusetts, Boston
Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship
As researchers continue to identify the early signs of autism and diagnose younger children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), early educators in childcare settings are faced with unique challenges and opportunities to impact the trajectories of the newly diagnosed toddlers they serve. Toddlers and preschoolers can make considerable gains within inclusive childcare or preschool intervention settings. However, the majority of newly diagnosed toddlers do not have access to tailored early education practices. Effective inclusive early education intervention settings tend to involve extensive training of educators, external interventionists in the classroom, and/or very low teacher-student ratios, making them expensive and difficult to disseminate. The goal of the proposed work is to develop and pilot a manualized, accessible, intervention that can be delivered to early educators who find themselves unexpectedly in an inclusive center-based childcare setting after one (or more) of their toddlers receives a diagnosis of ASD. The study will be divided into two phases: Phase 1: Intervention experts and early intervention practitioners will be surveyed and/or interviewed to identify potentially pivotal intervention strategies that could be used in a brief early educator intervention. Early educators serving toddlers with ASD will be surveyed to explore their perceived competencies, training needs, and preferred format of intervention. These findings and a literature review will be integrated to develop a new intervention. The intervention will be designed to increase early educatorâ€™s knowledge of the signs and symptoms of ASD and the use of targeted developmental support skills. The intervention will consist of approximately 4 instructional sessions and 2-4 individual coaching sessions. The intervention will be reviewed by experts and early educators and feedback integrated. Phase 2: The intervention will be tested at ten pilot sites. Preliminary analysis of pilot data and focus group data from the first two sites will be used to refine the intervention. Expected Results: Phase 1: With the support of national experts and early intervention practitioners, an intervention can be designed to aid early educators caring for newly diagnosed toddlers with ASD. Phase 2: The intervention should help early educators to tailor their educational practices to meet the needs of all children in their classrooms.