Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

School Psychologists and Autism: Current Understanding and Opportunities for Improving Assessment Practices
by Gottlieb, Rachel, Psy.D., Hofstra University, 2020, 136; 27831946
Abstract (Summary)

Currently, more children are receiving a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) than at any other time in history (Wilkinson, 2017). In the United States, there are more than 400,000 students with ASD who attend school (Brock, Huber, Carter, Juarez, & Warren, 2014). Previous studies (e.g., Messmer-Wilson, 2006; Pearson, 2008) have suggested that school psychologists lack formal graduate school training in working with children with ASD. Past research indicates that most school psychologists are not using evidence-based assessment consistently when completing ASD assessments in schools (e.g., Aiello, Ruble, & Esler, 2017; Pearson, 2008). Additionally, school psychologists may need to shift the way they view ASD. There have been mixed results regarding attitudes and stigma among mental health professionals working with individuals with mental illness (Hansson, Jormfeldt, Svedberg, & Svensson, 2013; Lauber et al., 2006; Smith, 2008), but no studies to date have examined stigma among school psychologists working with individuals with ASD.

The purpose of this study was to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the relationship among variables associated with school psychologists' knowledge and stigma of ASD, such as training, geographic location within the United States, employment setting, and use of evidence-based assessment. Four hundred fifty-four school psychologists participated in an online survey. Participants provided demographic information about themselves and their place of employment and completed the Autism Stigma and Knowledge Questionnaire (ASK-Q; Harrison et al., 2017). School psychologists answered questions about their training and confidence in working with and assessing individuals who have or are suspected of having ASD. Participants also completed a quiz examining their competence in the administration of ASD-specific assessment instruments (e.g., Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised).

It was hypothesized that higher levels of school psychologists’ confidence in working with individuals with ASD, increases in the ASD-specific training of school psychologists, school psychologists’ usage of evidence-based assessment practices when conducting ASD evaluations, and higher levels of school psychologists’ competence in the administration of autism-specific measures would be associated with lower levels of stigma of ASD. Independent t-tests were performed, and no significant differences were found.

It was hypothesized that higher levels of school psychologists’ knowledge of ASD would be associated with lower levels of stigma of ASD, as measured by the ASK-Q (Harrison et al., 2017). Participants who indicated having no stigma of ASD compared to those who reported having stigma of ASD demonstrated marginally significantly more knowledge of ASD. Additionally, it was hypothesized that the predictors (described above) would be statistically correlated with one another. Results suggest that knowledge of ASD is significantly correlated with confidence in working with individuals with ASD. School psychologists’ competence in the administration of autism-specific measures exhibited a significant positive correlation with ASD-specific training and confidence in working with individuals with ASD. School psychologists’ usage of evidence-based assessment practices when conducting ASD evaluations is significantly related to ASD-specific training. Further, results revealed that ASD-specific training is significantly correlated with confidence.

For each research question, an analysis of variance and a chi-square test of independence were performed. Research questions addressed whether there is an association between school psychologists’ degree type and stigma and knowledge of ASD. The effect of degree type on knowledge of ASD was not significant, and the relation between stigma of ASD and degree type was not significant. Research questions addressed whether there is an association among school psychologists’ type of employment setting, stigma and knowledge of ASD. Participants working in both school and alternative settings had significantly more knowledge than participants working in school settings only. The relation between stigma of ASD and primary work setting was not significant. Finally, research questions addressed whether in the United States, there is an association among school psychologists’ region of employment and stigma and knowledge of ASD. The relation between these variables was not significant.

Several post-hoc analyses were conducted. Only 15% of school psychologists reported using both the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Second Edition when conducting an ASD evaluation, which are the gold standards in diagnosing ASD. Approximately 70% of participants reported using the Childhood Autism Rating Scale- Second Edition (CARS-2); however, the school psychologists who reported using the CARS-2, on average, answered 34% of the CARS-2 competence questions correctly. Lastly, with respect to training, more than 90% of respondents indicated the perceived need for more training in the areas of differentiating ASD from other developmental disorders, comorbidity issues with ASD, and best practice procedures for assessing and diagnosing ASD. Strengths and limitations of the study are discussed and directions for future research are provided.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gilbert, Kimberly
Commitee: Dill, Charles, McDonald, Mary, Tsytsarev, Sergei, Posy, Yosef
School: Hofstra University
Department: School-Community Psychology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 81/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Educational psychology
Keywords: Autism Spectrum Disorder
Publication Number: 27831946
ISBN: 9798607319021
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