The spread of misinformation about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has rapidly increased amongst the general public in recent years. Special education professionals are expected to have expertise in the use of evidence-based practices (EBPs) to best meet the needs of students with autism and are trusted by caregivers to provide this support. By preparing professionals to be critical of information about ASD and effective practices, we can address and mitigate the spread of misinformation. —Taryn McBrayne
Evidence-Based Practices and Autism in the Classroom
With an increase in public awareness campaigns hitting social media platforms, misinformation about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has largely increased over the past decade. In fact, research suggests that “the general public is more familiar with unsubstantiated practices for ASD than with evidence-based practices (EBPs).” The psychological phenomenon, “the mere-exposure effect,” proposes that even reading one inaccurate headline can have a long-lasting impact on the way that one thinks about certain topics, including Autism.4 Thus, authors Fleury & Kemper seek to examine education professionals’ knowledge about ASD and treatment options to assess how the dissemination of misinformation may have influenced ASD practices.
As with all educators, special educators have a responsibility to make instructional decisions that will best serve the needs of their students. The use of EBPs is often “emphasized in most states’ teaching licensure standards.” However, recent research has shown that only “12% to 55% of education professionals serving students with ASD were directly taught how to use EBPs for students with ASD during their preservice training.”2 Therefore, educators may resort to alternative forms of information, increasing the chance that non-EBPs will be used in the classroom given that “autism remains a ‘fad magnet,’”3 potentially causing harm to the individual with ASD as well as the organizations that do promote EBPs.
Fleury & Kemper also emphasize that “the public’s general misunderstanding of correlation versus causation”1 combined with difficulties distinguishing between credible and non-credible sources, creates an environment where misinformation can be easily spread and given credence.
In their study, the authors surveyed 72 education professionals from a 2-day professional development seminar. The results are as follows:
Beliefs about Causal Attributes of ASD
- “Education professionals were most confident that neurobiological factors were a causal attribute of ASD.”
Familiarity with Practices
- “Participants were more familiar with EBP compared with unsubstantiated practices for individuals with ASD.”
Likelihood to Use or Recommend Practices
- Educational professionals reported that “they are more likely to use or recommend EBPs than non-EBPs.” According to the authors, “this contrasted with [our] previous research with members of the general public, who proved to be more familiar with unsubstantiated practices compared with EBPs.” However, the survey results did reveal that “special education professionals did not engage in sourcing as would be expected of experts.”
The authors acknowledge that the participants in this study were already “attending a professional development training and, as such, represent a biased sample of professionals who are interested in expanding their knowledge and expertise about EBPs for this population.” Therefore, a wider research sample is needed in order to apply these findings to the general special educator population.
Overall, Fleury & Kemper note that while the results of this survey are encouraging, it is important to continue efforts to combat the spread of misinformation about ASD and EBPs by cross-checking information with reputable sources, addressing deficits in knowledge, and working towards publishing research in a manner that is easily accessible for a general population. Ultimately, “by preparing professionals to be critical consumers of information, we may be able to mitigate the spread of misinformation about autism and limit widespread use of non-EBPs.”
Fleury, V. P., & Kemper, T. (2022). An Examination of Education Professionals’ Beliefs About Causes of Autism and Their Perceptions of Practices. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. https://doi.org/10.1177/10883576211073685
Summary by: Taryn McBrayne — Taryn believes in the power of student voice and, through the MARIO Framework, strives to create more opportunities for both educators and students to regularly make use of this power.
- Bergstrom, C. T., & West, J. D. (2020). Calling bullshit: The art of skepticism in a data driven world. Random House.
- Hsiao, Y. J., & Petersen, S. (2018). Evidence-based practices provided in teacher education and in-service training programs for special education teachers of students with autism spectrum disorders. Teacher Education and Special Education, 42, 193–208. https://doi.org/10.1177/0888406418758464
- Metz, B., Mulik, J. A., & Butter, E. M. (2016). Autism: A twenty-first century fad magnet. In R. M. Foxx & J. A. Mulick (Eds.), Controversial therapies for autism and intellectual disabilities: Fad, fashion, and science in professional practice (pp. 169–195). Routledge.
- Pennycook, G., Cannon, T. D., & Rand, D. G. (2018). Prior exposure increases perceived accuracy of fake news. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(12), 1865–1880. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000465
Key Takeaway: In today’s globalized world, it is imperative that all students are able to use their unique voices and actively participate in conversations. In order to foster meaningful participation in the classroom, educators need to develop strong and trusting relationships with their students. Challenging the notion of what it means to be inclusive provides educators with the opportunity to re-imagine modern education by prioritizing relationships and placing human values at the center of the teaching and learning experience. —Taryn McBrayne
“It is essential to place the relationship between the teacher and the student at the core of teaching,” says Ann-Louise Ljungblad (Department of Education and Special Education at University of Gothenburg). Ljungblad shares her study on the theoretical perspective, Pedagogical Relational Teachership (PeRT), to promote trustful teacher-student relationships as a foundation for student participation and inclusion. The author, in conjunction with Biesta (2007),1 proposes that a new type of inclusion, known as “the incalculable,” be introduced into classrooms.
As the article explains, this form of inclusion emphasizes student “subjectification” (Biesta, 2009)2 by considering “if, when and how students are given opportunities to participate in education and emerge with their own unique voices,” which Ljungblad (2016)3 believes is one of education’s main purposes.
According to Ljungblad, the PeRT theory provides a third way for students to access knowledge, in addition to traditional individualist and collectivist approaches, whereby the relationship between teacher and student is leveraged. Relational pedagogy, the main component of the PeRT perspective, values relationships, and Ljungblad believes that “learning and knowledge can be seen as a result of relationships.” More specifically, the author explains that it is the relationship between students and their teachers that significantly impacts learning in what is referred to as the “in-between space.”3 Here, Ljungblad explains that, “since meanings are shared and located ‘in-between,’ we have to embrace this gap, and PeRT is a theoretical inclusive perspective that highlights this essential space.”
To showcase the role of student-teacher relationships in increasing student participation, the author references a self-conducted, micro-ethnographic study in 2016 which surveyed one hundred children ranging in age and physical and intellectual ability.3 The results of this study suggest that “the teachers’ pedagogical tactfulness created space for the students’ unique voices to emerge.” Put simply, the manner in which teachers interacted with their students, namely a “listening and empathetic pedagogical stance,” positively influenced their levels of participation.
The author outlines three dimensions of the PeRT model in the article:
Dimension 1 – According to Ljungblad, “PeRT emphasizes a positive rights
claim for teachers to actively support students,” meaning that acting based on what is in the best interest of the child and what allows them to achieve their potential serves as a way to encourage participation. These “positive rights” stem from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of a Child (CRC) and the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education.
Dimension 2 – Inspired by Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory model, the PeRT model is multidimensional and “shows how different aspects of relational teachership are closely intertwined, from a micro-level to a macro-level.” Through adopting this model, teachers are challenged to change their teaching practices in order to relate to their students and to embrace student collaboration to best meet their needs.
Dimension 3 – Shifting from Vygotsky’s Didactic Triangle, the PeRT inspired Relational and Didactic Star emphasizes the importance of relational adaptations in the classroom environment to encourage participation. Although a traditional triangle model “emphasises the purpose, content and methods [of teaching],” Ljunglad suggests that it does not “illuminate the people who participate in the teaching community.” Ljungblad argues that PeRT combines the two pedagogical approaches (didactic and relational), therefore creating potential for “double-meaning making” to occur for students. As the author shares, “these two facets of meaning-making are important when teachers develop relational and didactic adaptations to create accessibility to the content.”
Ultimately, more studies are needed to further understand the complexities of relational values in inclusive education. However, PeRT is “an invitation to scholars and practitioners to use the multi-relational model as creative
inspiration to seek new knowledge and understanding about participation, accessibility and equity.” It is through positioning the teacher-student relationship at the heart of teaching that all students’ voices can be heard.
Ljungblad, A.L. (2021). Pedagogical Relational Teachership (PeRT) – a multi-relational perspective, International Journal of Inclusive Education, Vol. 25 (7), 860-876. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2019.1581280
Summary by: Taryn McBrayne—Taryn believes in the power of student voice and, through the MARIO Framework, strives to create more opportunities for both educators and students to regularly make use of this power.
- Biesta, G. (2007). “Don’t Count Me in. Democracy, Education and the Question of Inclusion.” Nordic Studies in Education, Vol. 27 (1), 18–29.
- Biesta, G. (2009). “Good Education in an Age of Measurement. On the Need to Reconnect with the Question of Purpose in Education.” Educational Assessment, Evaluation & Accountability, Vol. 21(1), 33–46.
- Ljungblad, A.L. (2016). Takt och hållning – en relationell studie om det oberäkneliga i matematikundervisningen [Tact and Stance – A Relational Study About the Incalculable in Mathematics Teaching]. PhD diss., Gothenburg Studies in Educational Sciences, 381. Gothenburg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.
- Relation-Centered Education Network
- Ljungblad, A.-L. (2020). Pedagogical Tactfulness. A fundament in inclusive mathematics education. Educare – Vetenskapliga Skrifter, (4), 60-87. https://doi.org/10.24834/educare.2020.4.3
- Ljungblad, A-L., Berhanu, G. (2020). A Change in Interpersonal Relational Capital: Through mentoring relationships and homework activities in a university setting. International Journal of Special Education, 35(1), 5-17 http://internationalsped.com/index.php/ijse/catalog/category/articles