Current Teaching Strategies for Enhancing Social Skill Development Among Students with Autism in the Elementary Grades

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The purpose of this qualitative study was to identify effective teaching strategies used with students with autism to enhance social skill development. With the growing need for teachers to address students with autism, viable strategies are needed to be implemented effectively to ensure social outcome success for students. The Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Education Act (2004) requires teachers to use evidence- based practices and implement those practices within the instructional settings. The participants for this study were purposefully selected from the population of special education teachers that are currently employed in the elementary grades in an urban southeast Texas school district. In this qualitative study, the researcher used the qualitative research methodology of phenomenological research. In this regard, the researcher identified evidence-based strategies and explored special education teachers’ perceptions of teaching strategies that are effective for guidance with students with autism to enhance their social skill development. In addition, instructional supports and barriers were explored in order to further examine the effects and the impact of learning for students on the autism spectrum. Based on the study’s findings, overall, three central themes emerged from the thematic analysis and were focused on the three research questions: (a) evidence-based practices and strategies, (b) supports, and (c) barriers. Findings from the study provided insight into the perceptions of special education teachers and what they believe to be effective when teaching students with autism to enhance their social skill development. Research data showed that special education teachers identified suggested practices, supports, and interventions to ensure that all students with autism are making positive strides in developmental growth through the use of effective teaching strategies. The findings of this study suggested teachers are utilizing evidence-based strategies with students with autism to enhance their development in social skills. The researcher hopes that the findings of this study will identify the need for continued practice and application of evidence-based strategies with students with autism. It is recommended that on-going teacher preparation training be consistent and monitored, to ensure maintenance and generalization of targeted skills. Most importantly, as educators, parents, and stakeholders in the community, being aware of teaching strategies that are effective, and applying those strategies can emphatically impact learning in students on the autism spectrum. Keywords: special education teacher, Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), autism, social skills, evidence-based practices