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Teachers of Students With Behavior Problems Want Help Finding Evidence-Based Tools

Elementary-class-Hand-Raised-article-Getty.jpgTeachers who say that they have students with  "behavior regulation challenges" are always on the lookout for programs they can use to support their students, and a new survey finds that teachers learn about those programs through their own research about a third of the time.

But those teachers, who educate children with disabilities such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also don't like being left to their own devices to find evidence-based practices, the survey found. They would prefer much more formal professional development than they get now.

Those were among findings from research shared at the 2018 International Society for Autism Research meeting, held earlier this month in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The unpublished survey and analysis of responses was led by Lauren Kenworthy, the director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children's National Health System in Washington D.C. It is not a nationally representative sample of educators, but Kenworthy said the findings offer useful information about the challenges of getting evidence-based practices into the hands of the educators who need them.

"There is this enormous promise and potential and unused, untapped opportunity in public schools to help this growing set of kids," Kenworthy said in an interview. "They're typically placed in mainstream classrooms, they do have verbal ability that enables them to be in those settings, they have grade-appropriate academic skills, but they are still lacking in fundamental skills that would help them be successful." 

The survey included 227 educators from around the country, most of them located in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Of those, 88 percent worked in public schools, and 68 percent were in schools that qualified for Title I funding for low-income students. 

Educators were asked what kind of evidence-based programs they were using. But when the researchers looked into those programs, they found that few actually met the standards of having published scientific findings that they improve behavior or executive functioning skills. 

Educators also reported that in addition to looking up programs on their own, about half the time they learn about new interventions through in-service training. Twelve percent of the time they learn about new practices through informal networks and 8 percent of the time, through formal professional development. 

But when asked how they would like to learn about new interventions, educators said that they preferred formal training or in-service programs. They felt that only 8 percent of their information on new practices should come from programs they looked up on their own. 

"I would hope to empower the educators to see these data, and see they as a group are wanting and asking for more mentioring and formalized training than they're getting—and they deserve that," Kenworthy said. "There's a group of people out there who are generally committed to doing evidence-based support, and feel like they're doing too much of it on their own."

The survey also included responses from parents of children with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Seventeen percent of those parents said they had attended an school-based training program, but the majority of respondents, 85 percent, said they wanted schools to give them more information so that they could support school-based interventions.

"Teachers, we are out there," said Yetta Myrick, a co-author of the report and the community outreach coordinator for the center for autism spectrum disorders. She is also the mother of a teenager with autism. "There's an idea that parents are disengaged. Parents are there to partner with you." 

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