Autism Special Education Research Design Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

Introduction to the Problem

Designing effective support services for students with autism remains one of the most pressing needs in special education (Creswell, 2013). Autism is described as being a spectrum because of its diverse manifestations. Therefore, students with autism spectrum disorders comprise a heterogeneous group. Being a heterogeneous group makes it harder to design effective support services that meet the needs of all persons. Research consistently shows that although students with autism spectrum disorders do not necessarily have concurrent intellectual or learning disabilities, and many have the potential for high academic achievement, these students are “at risk of scholastic underachievement,” (Clarke, Hill & Charman, 2016; Creswell, 2013). According to White, Elias, Salinas, et al. (2016), many individuals with autism spectrum disorder have above-average intellectual ability and yet are less likely to enroll in postsecondary education such as college or university. In addition to being at risk for scholastic underachievement, students with autism spectrum disorder are also at risk for social isolation and mental health problems (Clarke, Hill & Charman, 2016). For example, Mackay, Shochet & Orr (2017) show how prevalence rates for depression are much higher for students with autism spectrum disorder than among their neurotypical peers. Underachievement can also lead to lifelong problems related to underachievement in career and therefore lower earnings and reduced self-efficacy and self-advocacy (White, Elias, Salinas, et al., 2016). While transition planning tends to be formally integrated into special education programming, particularly because it is built into the mandatory components of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), transition planning is inconsistent.

Students with autism spectrum disorders report “negative experiences” of their transitions, including those from primary school to secondary school (Makin, Hill, Pellicano, 2017, p. 1). The transition to college can be even more challenging for students with autism spectrum disorders. Research shows that students with autism are being critically underserved, and have not been receiving evidence-based practices for transition planning from secondary school to college or university (Elias & White, 2017). As a result, students with autism spectrum disorders are either not enrolling in college or university, or are leaving their programs early because they lack necessary supports (Wei, Wagner, Hudson, et al., 2015). At the same time, students with autism are matriculating at colleges and universities at higher rates than ever before (Elias & White, 2017). As students with autism become more prevalent on college campuses, there is an explicit need for conscientious transition planning. Transition planning is also two-fold, involving the types of supports the students and their families need, as well as the institutional and structural supports or changes to organizational culture in high schools and colleges.

For example, Matthews, Ly & Goldberg (2014) conducted original research showing the importance of peer support in college. Results of the Matthews, Ly & Goldberg (2014) survey showed that prior knowledge of, experience with, or exposure to autism led to more positive attitudes towards peers with autism in college or university. This research suggests that secondary school teachers need to address autism more frankly and work harder to incorporate social opportunities into transition planning programs. Focusing exclusively on the academic needs of students is insufficient. Likewise, focusing only on students with autism and not on their neurotypical peers would also be an error. Effective transition planning involves multifaceted interventions that address goal setting, self-efficacy, and social skills confidence too.

Problem Statement

This research addresses a critical issue related to planning for students with autism. Students with autism are often highly functioning academically but less so socially, raising questions related to how transition planning can better serve this important cohort. Transition planning in special education has improved to the point where students with autism are enrolling more and more in college and university and yet they need more support during this “precarious life stage,” (Van Hees, Moyson & Roeyers, 2014, p. 1673). The existing transition planning programs focus almost exclusively on academics or on psychological supports offered through school counselors; important issues of course but ones that fail to take into account the need for peer and social support during the transition from high school to college (Brown & Coomes, 2015). Decreased graduation rates and worse outlooks for career and personal success are problems that can be addressed through effective transition planning (Van Hees, Moyson & Roeyers, 2014; White, Elias & Salinas, 2016). Transition planning needs to be more comprehensive for students with autism, incorporating issues like mental health support, goal setting, academic structural supports, and also social support.

Students with autism spectrum disorders experience higher levels of anxiety than their neurotypical counterparts (Clarke & Charman, 2016). It is possible that anxiety is related in part to social “isolation,” which in turn leads to “scholastic underachievement,” (Clarke & Charman, 2016, p. 3883). Mackay, Shochet & Orr (2017) also point out that students with autism spectrum disorders exhibit more depressive symptoms including suicidal behavior versus their neurotypical peers, in part due to “communication and social interaction difficulties,” (p. 3458). In addition to struggling to meet “social demands,” and being victims of bullying, students with autism spectrum disorders may also exhibit poor coping skills that can impede an otherwise clear path to academic and career success (Mackay, Shochet & Orr, 2017, p. 3458). Research consistently shows that the anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues experienced by students with autism spectrum disorders can be mitigated by “increased public awareness,” (Matthews, Ly & Goldberg, 2014, p. 97). Therefore, this research focuses on how to increase public awareness of autism so that students will develop stronger social self-efficacy and social support systems in high school, easing the transition to college. Likewise, this research focuses on how to create the most inclusive and supportive environments in college and university, to help vulnerable populations cope with what is already a stressful time for neurotypicals and which could be a critical point for those with autism spectrum disorders.

Purpose Statement

This research will contribute to a growing body of knowledge about transition planning for…

[…… middle part of this paper is missing, click here to view the entire document ]

…cull through the raw data for themes, propose thematic categories, and then review the themes in follow-up studies with the initial participants to ensure validity.

The second phase of the research will consist of the development of the transition planning program. Based on the results of the qualitative phase of the study, this phase reflects the sequential transformative research design used in this mixed methods study. The researchers will base the transition planning program on the advice given by the students, who will make suggestions related to how they would best respond to peer support services and what types of peer support services work best for them. Based on this information, the researchers will then design the intervention and use a system of random assignment. Students who have been diagnosed with autism and who have already enrolled in a college or university will be considered for inclusion in the study. The ideal sample size is large, with well over a thousand participants feasible. Participants will remain anonymous, with confidentiality ensured at every stage of the research. Furthermore, participants will be randomly assigned to the control and experimental group. The experimental group will engage with the special transition planning services that include peer supports. Additionally, a set of at least a dozen participants who agree to will be selected for follow-up interviews.

Data from phase two of the study will be collected longitudinally. The primary dependent variable for this stage of the research will be retention in college or university and program or degree completion. In addition to measurable variables like program completion and retention, the researchers will also collect qualitative data. This will help rule out extraneous variables that may have impacted student retention. For example, some students will have dropped out due to financial reasons or family reasons and not because they did not receive the transition planning support necessary for their success. Qualitative follow-up data will also be gathered to reveal the phenomenology of transition planning and social support services. Follow-up questions will be asked to determine how the students perceived the efficacy of the social support program and what they would do differently.

Ethical Issues and Design Limitations

While the ethical review boards will assist with ensuring that participants do receive proper informed consent, that confidentiality and anonymity is protected, and that participants are informed of their rights, there are additional ethical and study design limitations that need to be addressed. The first is that the researchers do not have sufficient control over which students participate in the follow-up interviews versus the initial interviews. With a lack of continuity between these two groups, there are some study reliability and validity issues. A large sample size for the quantitative phase of the research may make up for this potential design flaw. Another issues is that the transition planning services will necessarily be meted out, constructed, implemented, and perceived differently in each school and for each student. The lack of consistency poses some research validity and…

Sources Used in Document:


Brown, K. R., & Coomes, M. D. (2015). A spectrum of support: current and best practices for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at community colleges. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 40(6), 465–479. doi:10.1080/10668926.2015.1067171

Clarke, C., Hill, V., & Charman, T. (2016). School based cognitive behavioural therapy targeting anxiety in children with autistic spectrum disorder: a quasi-experimental randomised controlled trail incorporating a mixed methods approach. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(12), 3883–3895. doi:10.1007/s10803-016-2801-x

Creswell, J. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Elias, R., & White, S. W. (2017). Autism Goes to College: Understanding the Needs of a Student Population on the Rise. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(3), 732–746. doi:10.1007/s10803-017-3075-7

Mackay, B. A., Shochet, I. M., & Orr, J. A. (2017). A Pilot Randomised Controlled Trial of a School-Based Resilience Intervention to Prevent Depressive Symptoms for Young Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Mixed Methods Analysis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(11), 3458–3478. doi:10.1007/s10803-017-3263-5

Matthews, N. L., Ly, A. R., & Goldberg, W. A. (2014). College Students’ Perceptions of Peers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(1), 90–99. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2195-6

Van Hees, V., Moyson, T., & Roeyers, H. (2014). Higher Education Experiences of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Challenges, Benefits and Support Needs. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(6), 1673–1688. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2324-2

Wei, X., Wagner, M., Hudson, L., Yu, J. W., & Javitz, H. (2015). The Effect of Transition Planning Participation and Goal-Setting on College Enrollment Among Youth With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Remedial and Special Education, 37(1), 3–14. doi:10.1177/0741932515581495

Cite This Research Proposal:

"Autism Special Education Research Design" (2018, December 27) Retrieved June 26, 2019, from

"Autism Special Education Research Design" 27 December 2018. Web.26 June. 2019. <>

"Autism Special Education Research Design", 27 December 2018, Accessed.26 June. 2019,