Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. Research within the field of ASD is booming, and for good reason—it is estimated to be as prevalent as 1 in 88 children now, and the number has been noticeably increasing since the 1970’s.
My two broad research questions are: What are the characteristics of children and families receiving different treatments for ASD? What are the facilitators of and barriers to effective treatment from the perspective of therapists serving young children with ASD? My research is focused on identifying what types of services are provided to different characteristics and demographics of children with ASD. The services I am focusing on are well researched and are considered evidence based practices, they include: occupational therapy, behavioral therapy/applied behavioral analysis, special education, and speech therapy.
This research will be done by completing a secondary data analysis on a portion of data called the Pre-Elementary Education Longitudinal Study (PEELS), and by also interviewing a dozen professionals that work with children with ASD on a frequent basis. The qualitative analysis will rely on the PEELS data set—this data set contains all major variables that I intend to focus on in my research. PEELS has data on over 3,000 children with disabilities, including around 450 with ASD. This data includes information on what services the children were provided with, demographics of the children, child assessments, family interviews, and other questionnaires. The Institute of Education Sciences has a data set called Powerstats that is publically available, which provides users with access to a portion of data from the entire PEELS data set. For my project, I will complete both a univariate and multivariate logistic regression of the Powerstats data. In conjunction with the Powerstats analysis, I will also conduct qualitative research via interviews with services providers that work with children who have ASD. I will be contacting different outpatient therapy clinics, hospitals, schools, and referral agencies in the Northern Illinois region to conduct semi-structured interviews with professionals that work with children who have ASD. I am going to complete extensive interviews with a minimum of twelve professionals throughout the summer, three from each of the following four fields: occupational therapy, speech language therapy, behavioral therapy/applied behavioral analysis, and special education. Professionals who decide to participate in the research project will be asked a series open ended questions designed to elicit their perspective on the types of services provided to children with ASD and the barriers and facilitators of service effectiveness.
The combination of a data analysis and an interview analysis will hopefully make my research both unique and influential to the wider autism community. Because early intervention strategies are so crucial for the development of these children, my hopes is that it will be beneficial to both professionals working with children with ASD and for parents of children with ASD.