An examination of middle school students' reported knowledge of autism
Morton, Jane Ferguson
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Middle school students differ in their knowledge and understanding of autism. Researchers have shown that knowledge of a disability contributes to peoples’ attitudes towards those with disabilities, which in turn relates to peoples’ behaviors towards others with disabilities such as autism. Within the context of public schools, one characteristic in an inclusive classroom by which to measure the effectiveness of the inclusion process are the reported behavioral intentions and attitudes of general education students towards peers with disabilities such as autism. Increased opportunity for socialization is a hypothesized byproduct of inclusive education; however, when students express negative attitudes through their actions towards peers with autism, positive social models for the students with disabilities are less likely to occur. Therefore in the current study, 1,004 middle school students were surveyed regarding their awareness and understanding of autism. Of the 1,004 students surveyed, 471 participants reported having heard of autism and then provided a response to the open-ended question: "What is autism?" Students’ open-ended responses were coded to develop themes that represented the kinds of responses provided by students. Through systematic analysis of responses, conclusions about how middle school students describe their understanding of autism are presented. In addition, recommendations for interventions to improve attitudes towards peers with autism are outlined based on the themes identified in the analysis. The goal of the current study is to provide a more thorough understanding of the ways in which students express their knowledge of autism. By presenting an analysis of how students express their understanding of autism, I argue that findings can contribute to the development of improved intervention alternatives for general education students.