The purpose of the present study was to investigate knowledge of autism among teacher candidates who are likely to have the initial contact with children with autism within public school system in Turkey. Five hundred and four senior pre-service teachers who were enrolled in four different teacher education programs participated in the study. Data were collected using a survey package at the end of spring semester during the last year of college. Results indicated that pre-service teachers across programs had limited knowledge of autism and its characteristics. Findings of the present study call for the development of pre- and in-service training programs for teachers of children with autism. Further implications of findings for future research and practice are discussed.
Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by a triad of impairments in socialization, communication, and behavior. The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has increased dramatically within the last three decades in the United States and many countries around the World (Elsabbagh et al., 2012). According to the recent reports, the current prevalence of ASD is 1.5% (one in 68 children) in the United States, 0.6% in Australia, 1% in Asia and Europe, and 2.6% in South Korea (Baio, 2014; Kim et al., 2011). The most current findings in the United States suggest that approximately 50% of the increase in prevalence can be attributed to changes in diagnostic practices, increased awareness of autism, parental age, and geographic clustering (Matson & Kozlowski, 2011; Weintraub, 2011).
In Turkey, there is no systematic surveillance system to estimate the prevalence of ASD. Therefore, the number of individuals who have ASD is not known (Ministry of Health and Tohum Autism Foundation, 2008). Moreover, the country does not have a nationwide system for referring, screening, identifying, and diagnosing children with autism (or other disabilities; Diken et al., 2012). Due to the lack of services, many children with autism, especially those who have mild symptoms, whose parents are not knowledgeable about child development, and who live in rural areas, may begin schooling without being diagnosed (Freeth, Milne, Sheppard, & Ramachandran, 2014). This places a heavy burden on teachers who are likely to have the initial contact with these children. Depending on when the child enters into the school system, preschool teachers, primary education teachers, guidance and psychological counseling teachers, and special education teachers are among the professionals whom the child will have the first contact within the school system.
It is important for these professionals to know the symptoms of autism and characteristics of children with autism to help identify children who may need further evaluation to determine whether they have autism. Moreover, knowing important characteristics of children with autism has major implications for educational and environmental planning (Koegel & Koegel, 1995). Research has shown that teachers’ expectations about children with disabilities, including those with autism, influence their instructional goals, methods, and educational practices (Lane, Carter, Common, & Jordan, 2012).
Initial Teacher Preparation in Turkey
Current teacher preparation programs in Turkey are 4 year long, and teacher candidates graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the programs. A national curriculum for each teacher education program is developed by the Higher Education Council and implemented nationally in respective teacher education programs. Upon completing the 4-year-long program, teacher candidates must pass a national exam to be appointed as teachers in public schools (Sendag & Gedik, 2015).
To earn a bachelor’s degree in preschool education, primary education, guidance and psychological counseling, and special education, students must complete 127 to 146 credit hours of theoretic and 26 to 48 credit hours of applied courses across 4 years. Excluding the special education teacher education program, the other teacher education programs include only one compulsory introductory course on special education (i.e., two or three credits depending on the program) and may include an elective course on inclusion (www.yok.gov.tr).
Research on Knowledge of Autism
Several studies have investigated teachers’ or other professionals’ knowledge of autism. For example, Stone (1987) examined the knowledge of 239 pediatricians, clinical psychologists, speech/language pathologists (SLPs), school psychologists, and other specialists (i.e., individuals who served four or more children with autism each year) about the important characteristics of autism including etiology, definition, and diagnosis (as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [3rd ed.; DSM-III; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1980]). Results showed that there were misconceptions across all professional groups, but the specialists had the most current knowledge among all. In 2005, Heidgerken and colleagues conducted a follow-up study to investigate more current knowledge of autism among CARD personnel (i.e., professional with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities), specialists (i.e., psychiatry, speech and language pathology, and clinical psychology), and primary care providers (i.e., family practice, pediatrics, and neurology). Results indicated that professionals from all three groups reflected accurate endorsement of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.; DSM-IV; APA, 1994) criteria. However, specialists and primary care providers exhibited some beliefs regarding prognosis, course, and treatment that were consistent with outdated research.
In another study, Helps, Newsom-Davis, and Callias (1999) investigated the level of knowledge and understanding of autism among general education teachers, special education teachers (non-autism), and support staff in England by comparing their ratings of survey items to those of mental health professionals who were expert in autism field. Researchers used a modified version of the questionnaire developed by Stone (1987) and reported that teachers’ views of autism were significantly different from the experts’ view in many areas. For example, teachers from both groups reported that children with disabilities do not have serious cognitive difficulties or learning disabilities and that autism is an emotional disorder rather than a developmental disorder.
Mavropoulou and Padeliadu (2000) compared Greek regular and special education teachers’ perceptions about autism, using a questionnaire that was developed based on previous research (Stone & Rosenbaum, 1988; Szatmari, Archer, Fisman, & Streiner, 1994) and existing literature on autism. Findings of the study showed that both group of teachers had some confusion about the causes of autism, each group identified different instructional priorities for the treatment of autism, and special education teachers are more likely to identify characteristics of autism correctly.
Two relatively more recent studies evaluated knowledge of autism among SLPs in the United States (Cascella & Colella, 2004; Schwartz & Drager, 2008). Cascella and Colella (2004) showed that SLPs’ knowledge of the general behavioral and communication characteristics associated with ASD was greater than their knowledge of educational assessments and interventions for children with autism. Findings of Schwartz and Drager (2008) suggested that the majority of SLPs had accurate knowledge about the characteristics of children with autism, but they had mixed perceptions about diagnostic criteria for autism.
In addition to the international studies, two recent studies in Turkey investigated pediatricians’ and pre-service teachers’ knowledge and perspectives about autism (Ozcelik et al., 2015; Yasar & Cronin, 2014). Ozcelik and colleagues investigated knowledge and attitudes of 270 pediatricians and found that participants (a) did not have thorough knowledge of DSM-IV criteria for autism, (b) were not familiar with comprehensive evaluation techniques used to diagnose children with autism, and (c) did not feel comfortable giving diagnosis of autism. Yasar and Cronin (2014) examined knowledge and awareness of 551 pre-service teachers enrolled in 10 different teacher education programs across two universities in Turkey. The authors reported that pre-service teachers across teacher education programs had limited knowledge of autism and concluded that they need more classes and preparation to effectively serve children with autism.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the present study was to investigate knowledge of autism among teacher candidates who were enrolled in preschool education, primary education, guidance and psychological counseling, and special education teacher preparation programs. Following research questions were addressed in the present study:
Research Question 1: What general knowledge do teacher candidates in various teacher education programs have concerning autism? Are there differences on general knowledge among teacher candidates across teacher education programs?
Research Question 2: What are perceptions of teacher candidates in various teacher education programs about characteristics of autism? Are there differences on perceptions about characteristics of autism among teacher candidates across teacher education programs?
Research Question 3: What are perceptions of teacher candidates in various teacher education programs about the instructional priorities for children with autism? Are there differences on perceptions about the instructional priorities for children with autism among teacher candidates across teacher education programs?
Participants of the present study were 504 senior students who were enrolled in four different teacher education programs across five universities in Turkey. These included 146 teacher candidates from the preschool education program (ECP; 29%), 130 teacher candidates from the primary education program (PEP; 26%), 125 teacher candidates from the special education program (SEP; 25%), and 103 teacher candidates from the guidance and psychological counseling program (GPCP; 20%). The five universities included Ondokuz Mayis University (n = 293; 58%), Adiyaman University (n = 76; 15%), Yuzuncu Yil University (n = 52; 10%), Mugla Sitki Kocman University (n = 47; 9%), and Kafkas University (n = 36; 7%). Of 504 participants, 323 (64%) were female and 181 (36%) were male. The mean age of participants was 22.6 years (SD = 1.36). Table 1 illustrates participant demographics by teacher education program.
A limited number of participants had personal contact with individuals with autism prior to the study. This included 15 (3%) participants with a family member/relative with autism and 10 (2%) with a friend with autism. Relatively higher number of participants interacted with children with autism at work (n = 54, 11%) or in their practicum sites (n = 127; 25%). Many participants reported watching a movie that included a character with autism (n = 301; 60%) or a documentary about autism (n = 132; 26%). Almost one third of the participants (n = 140; 28%) had no prior experience with individuals with autism. With respect to professional development activities, majority of teachers reported that they took at least one special education course (n = 369; 73%) and 174 (35%) reported taking a course that included topics related to autism. Other professional development activities participants attended included seminars about autism (n = 84; 17%) and conferences (n = 74; 15%). With respect to practicum placement, 317 (63%) completed their practicums in general education classrooms, 222 (44%) in inclusive classrooms, and 173 (34%) in special education classrooms.
The questionnaire on autism developed by Mavropoulou and Padeliadu (2000) was adapted and administered to evaluate teacher candidates’ knowledge about autism. Adaptation process included three steps. First, two researchers independently translated the questionnaire into Turkish and compared their translations. All disagreements were resolved by mediation, and the first version of the questionnaire was created. Second, the questionnaire was administered to 30 junior college students who were enrolled in ECP at the Yuzuncu Yil University. Participants in this stage were asked to rate intelligibility of the items, using yes when the item was clear and easy to understand (intelligible), and no when the item was unclear and hard to understand (unintelligible). Respondents were also asked their opinions about how to make the item clearer if they rated the item as unintelligible. Information obtained from the first administration was used to revise the questionnaire and create the final version. Third, the final version of the questionnaire was piloted with 40 junior college students who were enrolled in ECP at the Ondokuz Mayis University. These students were asked to respond to the questionnaire twice with 2 weeks discrepancy between the administrations to determine test–retest reliability coefficient. Analyses of test–retest reliability indicated high reliability (r = .92) between the two administrations. Respondents who participated in the pilot studies did not participate in the original study.
The final version of the questionnaire included two sections. The first section was designed to gather background information about the participants. The second section included 14 items to evaluate teacher candidates’ knowledge about autism. Item 1 focused on the etiology of ASD. For this item, participants were asked to rank order five factors as possible causes of ASD (1 = the most significant cause and 5 = the least significant cause). Items 2 to 9 evaluated general knowledge about autism. For these items, respondents had to select one answer from a choice of answers. Item 10 included 22 statements to address the behavioral characteristics of ASD (reflecting Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [5th ed.; DSM-5; APA, 2013] criteria). For this item, teacher candidates were instructed to select as many statements describing various characteristics of ASD as they would like to. The last four items aimed to evaluate participants’ views on the treatment of ASD. Item 11 focused on inclusion of children with ASD and asked participants whether it is possible to educate children with autism in inclusive classrooms. In the next two open-ended items, teacher candidates were asked to describe their opinions on the effectiveness of psychotherapy and special education in the treatment of children with ASD. The last item included 10 statements referring to the instructional goals for children with ASD. Respondents were instructed to select as many goals as they thought to be appropriate for children with ASD.
One thousand questionnaires were distributed to teacher candidates enrolled in the four teacher education programs across five universities at the end of spring semester during the last year of college. Teacher appointments to public schools in Turkey occur between August and September, indicating that many teacher candidates who participated in the study began working as teachers a few months after they completed the questionnaire package. A cover page explaining voluntary participation in the study and time required to complete the questionnaire (~20 min) was attached to questionnaire package. Teacher candidates were instructed to complete the questionnaire anonymously and return it to the researcher in each university. A total of 504 surveys were returned with an overall response rate of 50%. An ethical approval was obtained from the institutional review board prior to the study.
For items evaluating general knowledge about autism, frequency and percentage of correct responding were calculated for participants by the teacher education program. To examine differences on participants’ ranking of possible causes of autism across teacher education programs, the Kruskal–Wallis H test was used. For items focused on participants’ perception on the characteristics of ASD and instructional objectives for children with autism, frequencies and percentages were calculated for each teacher education program, followed by a chi-square analysis to determine between-group differences.
General Knowledge of Autism
Majority of teacher candidates across four teacher education programs (56% and above) identified abnormalities in brain and genetic as the two generally accepted causes of autism. Lack of maternal responsiveness and social issues as causes of autism were ranked first or second by 10% to 19% and 8% to 17% of teacher candidates across teacher education programs, respectively. Across the four programs, special education teacher candidates were less likely to perceive abnormalities in brain (61%) and genetic (56%) as the two major causes of autism. Moreover, special education teacher candidates were more likely to identify lack of maternal responsiveness (19%) and social issues (17%) as causes of autism when compared with teacher candidates from other programs. Analysis of teacher candidates’ ranking for each of five possible causes of autism revealed statistically significant group differences only for social issues (p = .008). Percentage of special education teacher candidates who identified social issues as a major cause of autism was significantly higher than that of teacher candidates from PEPs and GPCPs. Table 2 presents teacher candidates’ general knowledge of autism by teacher education program.
With respect to diagnosis of autism, majority of teacher candidates from ECP and SEP (56%) reported that autism is diagnosed through behavioral observations, family interviews, and autism-specific testing. Majority of teacher candidates across programs stated that autism is fully developed by the age of 3 (range = 52% for ECP to 63% for SEP), autism is more common in boys than in girls (range = 73% for PEP to 88% for ECP), it is not an early form of schizophrenia (range = 92% for PEP to 97% for GPCP and SEP), and the condition is not associated with early death (range = 52% for PEP to 78% for GPCP and SEP). In terms of the link between autism and intellectual disabilities, less than 40% of teacher candidates across programs reported that autism is not always associated with intellectual disabilities.
Regarding the treatment of autism, majority of teachers from SEP (67%), GPCP (61%), and ECP (53%) reported that autism is not curable. Half of the teacher candidates from PEP stated that autism is curable. Except the teacher candidates from SEP (42%), majority of teacher candidates reported that children with autism are best served in segregated settings specially designed to meet the needs of children with autism (range = 64% for ECP to 75% for GPCP). However, majority of teachers across all programs also reported that children with autism would benefit from inclusion (range = 60% for GPCP to 80% ECP).
Characteristics of Autism
As Table 3 illustrates, majority of participants across four teacher education programs perceived not making eye contact (73% for PEP to 86% for SEP), not seeking physical contact with others (72% for GPCP to 84% for SEP), not seeking company of others (64% for GPCP to 74% for SEP), sensitivity to change in routines (63% for ECP to 85% for SEP), stereotypical behaviors (63% for GPCP to 86% for SEP), over-reaction to noise (57% for GPCP to 71% for PEP), problems in emotional attachment (53% for GPCP to 59% for PEP), and sensitivity to environmental change (53% for GPCP to 79% for SEP) as important characteristics of autism. For six of the eight characteristics listed above, percentages of teacher candidates from SEP were higher than those of other programs. As seen in Table 3, however, only for three characteristics (i.e., stereotypical behaviors, sensitivity to change in routines or environments), percentages for SEP were statistically significantly different than percentages for other teacher education programs.
Not having feelings (3% for SEP to 12% for PEP), hearing problems (6% for SEP to 15% for PEP), hallucinations (8% for ECP to 16% for PEP), and not playing with objects (12% for ECP to 18% for PEP and GPCP) were perceived to be important characteristics of autism by very few teacher candidates across all teacher education programs. A considerable amount of teacher candidates across programs reported tantrums (38% for ECP and SEP to 52% for PEP), sleeping problems (19% for SEP to 39% for PEP), eating problems (28% for GPCP and SEP to 38% for PEP), clumsiness (30% for SEP to 62% for PEP), not understanding feelings of others (40% for ECP to 60% for SEP), not developing speech (37% for SEP to 45% for ECP and GPCP), not having self-care skills (18% for SEP to 49% for PEP), appearance and health problems (20% for SEP to 42% for PEP), obsessions (31% for GPCP to 62% for SEP), and appearing to be distant (49% for ECP and 65% for PEP and GPCP) as important characteristics of autism. Table 3 illustrates characteristics with significant group differences.
Regarding instructional priorities for children with autism, majority of participants across all teacher education programs selected reading and writing (53% for ECP to 82% for SEP), developing affective relationships with others (67% for GPCP to 75% for PEP), expressing desires using speech (82% for PEP to 90% for SEP), playing with other children (73% for ECP to 86% for SEP), reducing repetitive/stereotypic behaviors (64% for GPCP to 82% for SEP), reducing self-injurious behaviors (64% for GPCP to 87% for SEP), improving independence (59% for ECP and GPCP to 78% for SEP), and developing basic self-care skills (74% for ECP to 82% for GPCP) as important instructional targets. Among the targets listed in the questionnaire, two (i.e., improving understanding of feelings of others and reducing anxiety and emotional tension) were selected as instructional target by less than half of the participants across teacher education programs (between 37% for GPCP and 49% for SEP, and 31% for GPCP and 48% for PEP, respectively). For five of the 10 instructional targets listed in Table 4, a significant group difference among teacher education programs was observed. For all five instructional targets with significant group difference, percentages of teacher candidates from SEP were statistically significantly higher than percentages for teacher candidates from at least two teacher education programs. These instructional targets included reading and writing (24.58, p < .01), reducing repetitive/stereotypic behaviors (11.99, p < .01), reducing self-injurious behaviors (23.82, p < .01), improving independence (14.29, p < .01), and playing with other children (10.14, p < .05).
The current study was conducted to evaluate the knowledge of autism among Turkish pre-service teachers who were enrolled in four different teacher education programs including preschool education, primary education, guidance and psychological counseling, and special education. Teacher candidates from these four programs were selected to participate in the present study, because they will be among the first professionals with whom children with autism have the initial contact within the public school system in Turkey. As the prevalence of autism continues to rise across the globe, there is an increasingly urgent need for teachers working with children with autism to have a full understanding of characteristics and instructional needs of children with autism. Findings of the present study described below provide valuable information for initial teacher preparation programs in Turkey.
Results of the present study with respect to teacher candidates’ knowledge about the causes of autism suggest that teacher candidates across teacher preparation programs generally knew that autism is caused by abnormalities in brain structure and genetic plays an important role in the occurrence of autism. However, some misconceptions about the causes of autism still exist among teacher candidates as 10% to 19% of participants reported lack of maternal responsiveness and 8% to 17% reported social issues such as socioeconomic status as major causes of autism. Although previous research has reported that teachers or other practitioners may possess outdated knowledge about causes of autism (Heidgerken, Geffken, Modi, & Frakey, 2005; Mavropoulou & Padeliadu, 2000; Ozcelik et al., 2015; Stone, 1987; Yasar & Cronin, 2014), what is really concerning about the finding of the present study is the amount of teacher candidates from the special education teacher education program who selected maternal responsiveness (19%) or social issues (17%) as major causes of autism. Paired up with the percentages of teacher candidates from the SEP who did not know that autism is diagnosed thorough autism-specific behavioral evaluations (45%) and age of onset for autism is 3 years or younger (37%), it is apparent that special education teacher candidates in Turkey need more and comprehensive training in autism.
It is commonly accepted that autism is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured (O’Reilly, Cook, & Karim, 2012). However, there are a number of intervention approaches that have been linked with improved symptoms of autism and positive outcomes for children with autism (National Autism Center, 2015; Reichow & Barton, 2014; Rogers & Vismara, 2014). Findings of the present study with respect to treatment of autism showed that majority of participants across all teacher education programs believed that autism is not curable and segregated settings are the best settings to serve children with autism. Although many teacher candidates reported that children with autism are best educated in segregated settings, 60% to 80% of teacher candidates across teacher education programs also stated that children with autism would benefit from inclusion. The latter finding is encouraging, as inclusion is a recommended practice for the education of children with disabilities (Leblanc, Richardson, & Burns, 2009; Martins, Harris, & Handleman, 2014).
With respect to knowledge of teacher candidates about the characteristics of autism, the majority of participants across teacher education programs correctly identified many characteristics strongly associated with autism (e.g., not making eye contact, showing stereotypical behaviors, sensitivity to change in routines and environments) and those that are not directly linked with autism (e.g., seeing hallucinations, health/appearance problems, not playing with objects). However, several characteristics that are associated with autism were considered important by barely half or less than half of the participants across programs. These included lack of or delayed speech; tantrums; eating, sleeping, and hearing problems; and lack of self-care skills. Although many children with autism may overcome delayed speech (Wodka, Mathy, & Kalb, 2013), stereotyped or repetitive speech is one of the diagnostic criteria for autism and, therefore, an important characteristic of autism (APA, 2013). Described as the expression of whining, crying, yelling, throwing things, or swinging arms and legs in response to aversive stimuli (Mancil, 2006; Virués-Ortega, 2010), tantrums may be used as primary communication mode by some children with autism (Horner, Carr, Strain, Todd, & Reed, 2002; Mancil, 2006; Zachor & Itzchak, 2010). In addition, eating (Nadon, Feldman, Dunn, & Gisel, 2011), sleeping (Adams, Matson, Cervantes, & Goldin, 2014; Sivertsen, Posserud, Gillberg, Lundervold, & Hysing, 2012; Tilford et al., 2015), and hearing (Beers, McBoyle, Kakande, Santos, & Kozak, 2014) problems are not rare in children with autism. Not knowing the important characteristics of autism may result in delayed diagnosis and inaccurate treatment of autism symptoms.
In terms of instructional priorities, except improving emotional understanding and decreasing anxiety, all other objectives were selected as important by the majority of teacher candidates across programs. Improving expression of desires using speech was selected as the top priority (82% or above), followed by improving self-care skills (74% or above) and social play (73% or above). Considering characteristics of children with autism, these areas are important to target during instruction. However, one must note that deficits in speech and self-care skills were selected as characteristics of autism only by less than half of the participants. This means that although majority of teacher candidates did not perceive lack of speech and self-care skills as important characteristics of autism, they selected improving these skills as instructional target, perhaps due to the adaptive nature of these skills. Similarly, decreasing self-injurious behaviors was selected as an instructional priority by 69% to 87% of teacher candidates across programs, but tantrums were considered as characteristics of autism by roughly half of the participants. These findings may suggest that participants selected instructional priorities based on their perceived importance for adaptation to and learning in their classrooms, not because they were important to address the symptoms of autism. Participating teacher candidates might have thought that children who can communicate their wants and needs through speech, who have self-case skills, and who do not have self-injurious behaviors would cause less problems in the classroom.
Implication for Future Practice and Research
There are several important implications of the findings of the current study for future practice and research. Given the increase in the number of children who are diagnosed with autism, it is plausible to expect that the number of children and students who are going to be educated in general education/special education classrooms in public schools will continue to increase. Therefore, it is increasingly important that pre-service training for special education and general education teachers include competencies in working with and teaching children and students with autism. Although topics and issues related to autism are covered within the context of several courses, current special education teacher preparation programs in Turkey do not include compulsory (or elective in many programs) coursework in autism. Similarly, preparation programs for preschool, primary school, and guidance and psychological counseling teachers only include an introductory special education course in which autism and related issues are discussed and taught for 1 or 2 weeks. Moreover, depending on the placement, many special education and general education teacher candidates do not have opportunities to interact with and have supervised teaching experience with children with autism in their practicum sites.
The lack of teacher preparation programs for teachers who will have students with autism in their classrooms is alarming. The absence of appropriate training contributes to the difficulty many teachers encounter when children with autism are placed in their classrooms (Eren & Groskreutz, 2014). Preschool, primary school, and guidance and psychological counseling teacher education programs should provide teacher candidates with opportunities to gain knowledge and skills about main characteristics of children with autism, early intervention practices, cooperative program planning, systematic instructional procedures, evidence-based strategies, social skills interventions, and transition planning (Eren & Brucker, 2011). As special education teachers have specific responsibilities for planning, implementing, and evaluating programs designed to support development and learning of children and students with autism, special education teacher candidates have to go through more specialized training that includes coursework and supervised teaching in autism (Eren & Brucker, 2011). The Council for Exceptional Children (2012) has identified specific competencies for teachers who are responsible for providing education and developmental services to children with autism. These competencies include knowledge of and skills in (a) foundations, (b) development and characteristics of children with autism, (c) individual learning differences, (d) instructional strategies, (e) learning environments and social interactions, (f) language, (g) instructional planning, (h) assessment, (i) professional and ethical practice, and (j) collaboration. These competencies can guide the development of training programs specifically designed for teachers of children with autism.
A roadblock to the development of pre- or in-service training programs for teachers of children with autism in Turkey is the shortage of higher education personnel specialized in autism and other developmental disabilities. Therefore, it would be unrealistic to expect all special education teacher preparation programs to offer autism-specific training to teacher candidates. One, may be the only, way to overcome this problem until personnel shortage in higher education is addressed may be the development of web-based professional development or certification programs designed to train pre- or in-service teachers to work with children and students with autism. A professional development or certification program developed by the experts from the field and approved by the Ministry of National Education can be useful resource for many pre-service teacher candidates and in-service teachers who struggle teaching children with autism due to lack of expertise and training in autism. Such programs should include both coursework in autism and fieldwork with children with autism. Meanwhile, special education teacher preparation programs that have personnel specialized in the area of autism should begin to offer elective and compulsory courses in autism.
Future research efforts should focus on several important issues. First of all, findings of this study have to be confirmed by other researchers. Second, there is an urgent need to evaluate knowledge and skills of teachers who are currently working with children with autism. Third, future research should focus on the development and evaluation of web-based and other types of professional development programs for teachers of children with autism.
Present study has two limitations one needs to consider when interpreting the results and findings. The first and obvious limitation of self-report (e.g., questionnaire) studies is that they are subject to social desirability bias (Krumpal, 2013). Participants might have given responses that are socially more acceptable, rather than providing their true opinion or thoughts. The second limitation is our inability to determine error related to non-respondents (Lindner, Murphy, & Briers, 2001). Although the response rate for the present study was 50% and the study was conducted with a relatively large sample (i.e., 504 participants), respondents who chose to participate in the study might have better knowledge and perceptions of autism and those who did not participate in the study were not interested in autism and had less knowledge about autism and its characteristics.
With the astonishing increase in the numbers of children who are diagnosed with autism across the globe, the question is no longer whether Turkish teachers will encounter a child with autism in their classrooms and be required to meet the diverse needs of children with autism, but rather when they will have a child with autism in their classrooms. Findings of the present study showed that participating Turkish pre-service teachers including special education teacher candidates are not adequately trained in the area of autism. Therefore, there is an urgent need for developing professional development or certification programs to train pre- and in-service teachers to serve children with autism. Considering the lack of higher education personal specialized in the area of autism, one way to move forward is the development of web-based professional development or certification programs to equip teachers of children with autism.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article.
- © The Author(s) 2016
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Salih Rakap is an Associate Professor of Special Education and the Chair of the Department of Special Education at Ondokuz Mayis University. His research interests include but not limited to inclusion of young children with disanilities, embedded instruction, naturalistic instructional approaches, supporting social-emotional development in young children, identification and application of evidence-based practices in ASD.
Serife Balikci is a primary school teacher in Dumlupinar Primary School. Her research interests include but not limited to class-wide interventions for preventing challenging behaviors and supporting social-emotional development, embedded instruction, and inclusion of children with disabilities.
Asiye Parlak-Rakap is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Yuzuncu Yil University. Her research interests include but not limited to self-discipline, creative drama, science educaiton, and inclusion in early childhood.
Sinan Kalkan is a lecturer in the Department of Special Education at Ondokuz Mayis University. His research interests include but not limited to social-emotional development in early childhood, embedded instruction, and inclusion.