ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)

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Friday, July 14, 2006: 10:45 AM-12:00 PM
Narragansett Ballroom A
#2319- The Teacher Theory: The Thrive Vx. Struggle to Survive Phenomenon of Students with ASD
From year to year, parents of students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often note a ‘thrive versus struggle to survive’ phenomenon. For example, they may describe how their child ‘absolutely sailed’ through second grade only to seemingly gasp for social and academic survival the following year. This presentation explores why this occurs; proposing a practical theory that outlines the paradigm and effective principals and practices of teachers likely to be highly effective with students with ASD.

Presenters:Carol Ann Gray, BS, Degree, The Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding, Director - Carol Gray is a consultant to children and adults with autism spectrum disorders. In 1991, Carol developed Social Stories™ and Comic Strip Conversations, strategies that are used worldwide with children, adolescents, and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). She has published resources on topics related to children and adults with ASD, including articles on bullying, death and dying, and how to teach social understanding. Carol conducts several workshops and presentations each year in the United States and abroad. She is the recipient of the Barbara Lipinski Award for her international contribution to the education and welfare of people with ASD.

Whitney Mitchell Krusniak, MS, Jenison Public Schools, Michigan, Consultant to Students with ASD - Whitney Mitchell-Krusniak is a consultant to students with autism at Jenison Public Schools in Michigan. Additionally, she conducts Social Story™ workshops through The Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding (Grand Rapids, Michigan), and is working with Carol Gray as a co-author and to develop new materials and resources. Prior to becoming a consultant, Whitney worked as a special education teacher servicing students with ASD and families from pre-school through post-secondary. Whitney has a Master's Degree in Special Education Administration, and beginning in fall of 2006 will begin work on a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Grand Valley State University.

Presentation abstract (Please note: This abstract is excerpted from a chapter in press for a volume edited by Kate Sofronoff and Dr. Tony Attwood, Jessica Kingsley Publishers. This presentation will be based in part on this chapter, as well as a series of articles by Carol Gray and Whitney Mitchell Krusniak that are currently in press with Autism Spectrum Quarterly, for publication throughout 2006-2007):

Despite changing educational trends, each and every year many parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) share a consistent observation: Their child demonstrates tremendous growth and skill acquisition one year and subsequently struggles for academic, social and emotional progress the next. They describe a ‘thrive' versus ‘hope to survive' phenomenon that directly impacts their child as well as his or her teacher, classmates, school, and family. A wide variety of factors may contribute to these sharp and often unanticipated contrasts in the experience of a student with ASD, yet overwhelmingly parents attribute the difference to the attitude of the teacher. While attitude is critically important, it may not be the entirety of what to look for in a teacher. Drawing from research and collective experience, this presentation propses a ‘teacher theory': a definition and practical description of what often appears at face value to be ‘attitude' - but is very likely to be much, much more.

Many experts have discussed the characteristics of effective teachers of students with ASD and/or the critical role of teacher attitude (Ozonoff, Dawson, and McPartland 2002, Powers and Poland 2002, Rigg 2004, Koegel and LaZebnick 2004). In addition, ties between current knowledge and corresponding teaching skills have also been listed and described (Williams 1995, as cited in Powers, 2002). None to date have considered all of these elements together. In addition to books and articles, this presentation draws from informal surveys of workshop audiences and discussions with many parents and professionals to formulate the ‘Teacher Theory'. Its premise is that definable principles may be the best ‘units of measure' for teacher effectiveness, and that a specific underlying paradigm must be taken into account to accurately identify and fully understand the implications of each principle in practice.

The teacher is a central figure on an educational team. Along with other members of the team, the teacher works to develop an educational program by carefully defining individualized goals, learning objectives, and instructional strategies. Once a program is outlined, the teacher is responsible for its implementation and ultimately, a student's progress. In addition to direct instruction, a teacher will have frequent and continuing contact with members of the educational team, extended staff, and general education peers. Along with parents and legal guardians, many would agree that ‘...teachers have the most demanding roles of anyone involved with people who have autistic spectrum disorders' (Wing 2001, p.186).

Acknowledging the critical importance of providing a teacher with relevant information, program resources, and ongoing training, there are other factors that will determine the success of students on her caseload. The admitted reality is that ‘...even though it is critical that our educators are knowledgeable and skilled, stories of favorite or most effective teachers are seldom about curriculum' (Kluth, 2003, p.54). In fact, favorite teachers live first in our affective and social memories. The teacher is the vehicle for the delivery of resources; ultimately the curriculum must pass through her heart and hands to reach a student. ‘A teacher's beliefs matter. Her politics matter. Her language matters. Her relationships with students matter. Her values matter. ...In fact, these things matter in very real and very practical ways' (Kluth 2003, p.54). The teacher drives the curriculum and determines its neutral, negative, or positive impact; and we the authors believe that paradigms also matter.

Paradigms play a relatively unexplored role in education. Business experts have been studying and writing about paradigms for years. According to Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) and The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (2004), the term paradigm is ‘...commonly used today to mean a perception, assumption, theory, frame of reference or lens through which you view the world' (Covey 2004, p.19). The definition proposed by Joel Barker, author of Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future (1992), has a practical emphasis. He describes a paradigm as a ‘...set of rules and regulations (written or unwritten) that does two things: (1) it establishes or defines boundaries; and (2) it tells you how to behave inside the boundaries in order to be successful' (p. 32). For the purposes of discussion in this presentation, a paradigm is defined as a conceptual framework-in-practice, a teacher's orientation to her work.

Regardless of setting or endeavor, paradigms influence perception, judgment, and subsequent decisions. This impact is underscored by Covey, who writes, ‘If you want to make minor, incremental changes and improvements, work on practices, behavior or attitude. But if you want to make significant, quantum improvement, work on paradigms' (2004, p. 19). The paradigm that guides a teacher has a pervasive influence that will determine how she initially approaches the challenge of educating a student with ASD, as well as how she responds to him in each interaction, lesson, and activity. T In addition to influencing how a teacher responds to an interaction or situation within the classroom, the paradigm she ascribes to will also determine the quality and ultimate credibility of her professional decisions. In The 8th Habit, Covey emphasizes that a paradigm may be accurate or inaccurate, ‘ the map of a territory or city. If inaccurate, it will make no difference how hard you try to find your destination or how positively you think - you'll stay lost. If accurate, then diligence or attitude matter. But not until' (2004, p. 19). Applying this to our discussion, the sorting factor between teachers who are revered and those with regrettable reputations may be the accuracy of the paradigm they use when working with students with ASD. Specifically, with social concerns ‘front row center' in ASD, it is likely the most effective teachers regard their students through an exceptionally accurate social paradigm, one that may not be identical to that which they use outside of their work related responsibilities.

This presentation proposes that a specific, accurate paradigm and observable principles are critical contributors to the efficacy of a teacher of students with ASD. By attending this presentation, participants will be able to: • Describe the historical ‘thrive versus struggle to survive' experience of students with ASD in our school systems and its implications for concerned parents and professionals; • Define ‘the teacher theory'; • Describe the paradigm that guides the efforts of highly effective teachers; • Outline several observable ‘principals in practice' associated with effective teachers; • Identify the possible implications of the ‘teacher theory' on research, teacher training, and the education of every child with ASD.

Abstract References Barker, J.A. (1992) Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future. New York, NY: HarperCollins Books. Covey, S.R. (1989) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Covey, S.R. (2004) The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. New York, N.Y: Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Frith, U. (1991a) Autism and Asperger syndrome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kluth, P., with invited contributors Kasa-Hendrickson, C. and Yoshina, E. (2003) “You're Going to Love This Kid!” Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. Ozonoff, S., Dawson, G. and McPartland, J. (2002) A Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism: How to Meet the Challenges and Help Your Child Thrive. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Powers, M.D. with Poland, J. (2002) Asperger Syndrome & Your Child: A Parent's Guide. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. Rigg, M. (2004) ‘Southlands – A school model for challenging students with Asperger Syndrome.' Conference proceedings: Geneva Centre for Autism International Symposium on Autism 2004. Toronto: Geneva Centre for Autism. Koegel, L.K. and LaZebnik, C. (2004) Overcoming Autism: Finding the Answers, Strategies, and Hope That Can Transform a Child's Life. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam. Wing, L. (2001) The Autistic Spectrum: A Parents' Guide to Understanding and Helping Your Child. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.

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