Purdue University Graduate School

Investigation of Research-Based Communication Strategies for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in an Early Childhood Setting

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posted on 2023-04-21, 03:21 authored by Amy Joanna GaffAmy Joanna Gaff



According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately one in 44 children are identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD at the age of 8 in the United States (Centers for Disease Control, 2022). As the number of children with ASD is increasing, so do the concerns of early childhood educators about how to help them (Schafer Whitby et. al, 2015). The generally accepted criteria for ASD includes a deficit in communication and/or language, restricted and/or repetitive interests, indicators started manifesting young, the symptoms cause diminished functioning. Communication difficulties in children with ASD can be challenging for educators to handle (Grygas Coogle et al., 2018). Educators in a general education early childhood classroom may not be prepared to handle the influx of students with ASD due to their lack of knowledge and skills about appropriate communication strategies.

The master’s degree special project contains two separate elements: a survey and the development of a handbook. The purpose of the IRB approved study was to investigate common communication strategies and research-based strategies being used with students with ASD in an early childhood setting. The survey sought licensed teachers’ responses on their levels of understanding about communication strategies and recommendations for future professional learning and training materials. 

Twelve early childhood educators (PreK-2) from one urban elementary school, in a midwestern state were sent the anonymous 11 question Qualtrics survey, including rating questions and open-ended questions. Nine educators completed the survey. The results revealed teachers’ lack of familiarity and knowledge about communication strategies for students with ASD. All nine participants answered they had no previous specific training on ASD and communication strategies in college and zero hours of professional learning on communication strategies for students with ASD during the current school year. Educators also rated themselves as poorly or moderately prepared to teach children with ASD and their communication deficits. Not a single participant rated themselves as well prepared or very well prepared.

The study results and previously published research indicated the need for the professional learning handbook to provide early childhood educators with research-proven communication strategies written in a teacher friendly manner. The special project handbook has six sections: play strategies, environmental adaptation, visual supports, motivation, sensory integration, and collaboration with parents. ASD is multifaceted and complex for educators, and many of their struggles are rooted in the area of communication. These strategies were designed for students with ASD but can also be applied with all students.


Degree Type

  • Master of Science in Education


  • Educational Studies

Campus location

  • Fort Wayne

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jeong-Il Cho

Additional Committee Member 2

Jane Leatherman

Additional Committee Member 3

Rama Cousik