Teacher perceptions of the needs of preschool students with autism
The purpose of this study was to examine the perceptions of preschool special education teachers regarding the needs of their young students with autism within the classroom. The study provided helpful information to those who are responsible for providing training and support to the self-contained Preschool Program for Children with Disability (PPCD) teachers and PPCD Head Start inclusion specialists within the public school systems. The perceptions examined include student characteristics within the classroom setting, how well prepared the teachers feel to provide appropriate programming for young students with autism, and what supports they feel are, or would be, helpful to them. The results provided valuable, enlightening information from the "field" regarding the perceptions of teachers about their young students with autism.
This qualitative case study examined teacher perceptions within one school system. Information was gathered using personal, paper-based interviews, classroom observations, and photographs of teaching materials and classroom arrangements. "The use of qualitative case study enables researchers to let others hear their participants' voices" (Mendaglio, 2003, p. 163). The research focused on uncovering the "lived experiences" of teachers of young students with autism.
The overriding themes that emerged from the research were very similar to the information that was addressed in the current literature. The prevailing themes regarding the needs of young students with autism within the classroom setting were: Language and Communication; Behavior; Sensory issues; Need for Structure and Predictability; Individualized Attention and Instruction; Social and Self-Help skills and, Inclusion Opportunities. Four themes emerged from the questions regarding the challenges that the teachers face in meeting the needs of the students in their classrooms. These issues included: Time; Behaviors; Staffing; and, Teacher Stress – with the potential for burn-out. Three overriding themes emerged from the interviews regarding supports that the teachers feel they need to meet the needs of young student with autism: the need for additional training, including access to the training; the need for more and better classroom technology, and the need for various types of systematic support from educational specialists and administrators.