My professional goal is to pursue a career in academic research dedicated to developing a comprehensive understanding of effective family-school partnerships for socio-culturally diverse children with psychiatric and developmental disabilities. The goal of the proposed research will be to develop and test a program that will improve parent-teacher communication around the use of evidence-based interventions for underserved children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in urban public schools. Accomplishing these goals will contribute to shifting the understanding of treatment for ASD from context-specific interventions (i.e., home-based or school- based interventions) to interventions designed in collaboration between contexts, with the goal of improving services and outcomes for children. As an initial step towards this contribution, I will focus on communication between parents and teachers, which is a cornerstone in providing ecologically valid services to children with ASD. Conjoint behavioral consultation (CBC) is a promising model for facilitating communication because it focuses on triadic communication (i.e., teacher-parent-consultant). While CBC has been linked to improvements in parent-teacher relationships and behavioral/social skills outcomes in typically developing children, there are few studies of CBC for underserved children with ASD. Therefore, CBC may require adaptations to be successful for use in urban schools with parents and teachers of children with ASD.
The aims of the pro- posed study are to: 1) Explore the current state of parent-teacher communication and the factors associated with high-quality communication for culturally, linguistically, and socio-economically diverse children with ASD 2) Using information collected through Aim I and in partnership with major stakeholders, adapt CBC for use in low-resource school districts with parents and teachers of children with ASD~ and 3) Test the effectiveness of this modified program on parent and teacher communication, consistency of autism practices across home and school, parent and teacher satisfaction with communication/program implementation, and student outcomes. This study will be implemented in three phases through an established partnership between the University of Pennsylvania and the School District of Philadelphia, called the Autism Instructional Methods Support (AIMS). The first phase will be exploratory, in which parents and teachers of children with ASD will complete a self-report measure of communication, engage in an individual semi-structured interview, and participate in a dyad observation of communication. In the second phase, major stakeholders (e.g., parents, teachers, and other school personnel) will be interviewed. In the third phase, a randomized controlled trial will be conducted in which parents and teachers in one group will receive the adapted CBC program, while parents and teachers in the second group will serve as waitlist controls. Three waves of data will be collected (pre, post, and follow-up). During each wave of data collection, there will be a dyad observation and self-report measure of communication, as well as measures on home-school consistency, parent and teacher satisfaction, and student outcomes.
Successful completion of the three aims will result in a new culturally sensitive tool for communication improvement, thereby advancing psychological and educational practice. The proposed research also will advance science by providing evidenced-based practices in facilitating parent-teacher communication in special education settings using a consultation framework. This understanding is the necessary first step in future prevention and intervention studies targeting family-school partnerships, which has a pervasive impact on the cognitive, social, and behavioral health of children with ASD.