Title: Principals’ Attitudes Regarding Inclusion of Children with Autism in Pennsylvania Public Schools
Authors: Judy L. Horrocks, George White, & Laura Roberts
Source: Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, In press.

A very interesting study that will be published in the next issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. The authors wanted to examine the attitudes of school principals in Pennsylvania regarding the mainstream inclusion of children with autism. The researchers surveyed 571 school principals. The principals were provided with descriptions of 5 children with different levels of social and academic strengths and deficits, and asked for placement recommendations for these children (the descriptions did not explicitly stated that the kids had autism). Based on the Principals’ responses, the authors identified two domains used by principals to determine placements: Social Detachment and Academic Skills. Then the researchers examined what characteristics of the principals that predicted how they used the two domains to make placement decisions. Here is the most interesting result: Principals with 1) formal training in special education and 2) from elementary schools (as compared to middle and high school) were more likely to recommend higher placement for children with high level of Social Detachment (various deficits in social functioning). First, it is clear that formal training in special education of Principals have an effect in their placement decisions, possibly by helping them more accurately understand the capacities and limitations of these students (Although this assumes that the higher placement decision was the best decision for these kids). It is interesting also to see the School Level effect. Why are principals at the middle and high school level more hesitant to recommend mainstream inclusion? Is it an understanding of changing social pressures and the belief that these children will be “protected” by keeping them in a self contained classroom?

NOTE: Principals are not usually involved in placement decisions, so the purpose of this study was to examine “attitudes” towards placement. The assumption is that the decisions these Principals made to the sample descriptions may reflect their general beliefs about placement, which in turn could affect how decisions are made at the school level (by those truly in charge of making such decisions).

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4 Responses to School Principals and Autism.

  1. kristina says:

    In my son’s school district, the principal does not (does not seem) to be too involved in placement issues. I assume they are involved at the “macro” level as far as securing space and staff. But the placement decisions are left to teachers, case managers, autism consultants, and the special ed director. Thanks for highlighting this.

  2. Thanks Kristina. Actually, I’m pretty sure that in PA, Principals are also not directly involved in placement decisions. I think the authors of this paper looked at their decisions as reflections of their “attitudes” towards children with autism, specially in regards to placement. The assumption is that such attitudes probably affect the ‘culture’ at the school level. Nestor.

  3. Jules says:

    Thank you for sharing this research. This is my first visit to this blog, but I’ll probably be back. Am an autism mom who blogs and who has a scholarly husband in the academic arena. Am glad that research has been done on principals and their attitudes.

  4. J: Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you found the blog useful. I will update the blog about 3 times per week, mostly reviewing research articles. The project is relatively knew and not well know, thus feel free to let other potentially interested parents know about this site. Thank you! Nestor.

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