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What is ASD?

A child with autism can be subjected to a world of social isolation and communicative difficulty due to the inability to respond to, and use language appropriately across various social contexts (Siegel 1996). It is estimated that 1 out of every 59 children will be born with the most common of the pervasive developmental disorders, known as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (Dubai Autism Centre n.d.). In terms of ratio, as many as four males, to every one female are diagnosed with classic autism (Siegel 1996). Research suggests that autism develops as a result of an epigenetic process involving genetic and environmental influences (Habib et al. 2017).

Children diagnosed with ASD present with a triad of impairment in areas of social interaction, social communication and imagination. Many individuals also exhibit repetitive, restrictive behaviours that also impact on learning and activities of daily living (American Psychiatric Association 2013). Although there is great variance in terms of the severity of symptoms, as many as 70% of individuals maintaining a diagnosis are considered to present with intellectual impairment (Srivastava & Schwartz 2014). This highlights the need for appropriate educational support and instruction within the classroom.

UAE Context

There is a lack of international prevalence studies on ASD among Arab countries across the Middle East and North Africa. A review of the literature highlights great variance in terms of prevalence rates reported (Hussein and Taha 2013). A recent study examined case registration data held by the Dubai Autism Centre. Results concluded that prevalence of the condition is rising at a steady pace in Dubai (Al-Abbady, Hessian & Alaam 2017). The Dubai Autism Centre reached full capacity, reporting figures of 46 registered children with a waiting list of 200 requiring services in 2012. Similarly, in Abu Dhabi, 56 children were registered at the Emirates Autism Centre, with a further 200 also waiting for services (Chaudhary 2012). The recent increase of ASD incidences may be reflective of greater awareness and identification of characteristics associated with the condition. However, during recent years there has also been significant progress within the UAE in regards to advocacy and inclusion for people of determination. Under federal law, the rights of people with special needs are protected, guaranteeing equal opportunities and services across education, employment and health sectors (Gaad 2010). Therefore, principals, teachers and educational authorities hold significant responsibilities in determining accessibility and provision within school settings and specialised educational centres for children with special educational needs. However, there is a lack of evidence-based interventions for children with ASD when considering inclusive practice in the classroom, particularly within early years education (Wilson & Landa 2019).

Early Years Framework Curriculum (EYFS)

The participants involved in this study attend a private EYFS educational setting in Dubai. Therefore, it is important to note the theories behind the curriculum in relation to this study.

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is a UK based curriculum outlining specific guidelines for learning, development and care of children aged from birth to five years (Department for Education 2018). On-going formative and summative assessment is based on three themes: ‘A unique child’, ‘Positive environment’ and ‘Enabling environment’ (Standards and Testing Agency 2018). The EYFS is heavily influenced by play-based theories from Piaget, Brunner and Vygotsky, asserting that children learn best through active play experiences. There are many types of play-based interventions that include child-led, adult-led, structured and unstructured play. This study will focus on an inquiry play approach that is based on the theory of constructivism. This theory encourages learning through play, encourages critical thinking, language development and social communication during peer interactions. The approach promotes generalisation across topics and provides opportunities to build on learner knowledge, skills and development.

Direct Instruction (DI)

Direct instruction evolved in the 1960s from the work of Englemann and Bereiter and is grounded in the behavioural theory of Skinner (Molenda 2008). DI is associated with traditional educational approaches to teaching and learning, particularly within the school classroom environment (Magliaro, Lockee & Burton 2005). DI has also been well documented as a useful teaching method for children with language and learning disabilities.

Baker et al. (2013, p.334) assert that there is “compelling evidence indicating that explicit direct instruction has a positive impact on a range of student academic outcomes, particularly for students who are at risk of academic difficulties”.

However, the effectiveness of DI has only been evaluated within the field of Autism during recent years (Shillingsburg et al. 2014). Therefore, one must carefully consider the evidence base when deciding best practice in the classroom.

Teachers adopt an active and reflective approach when implementing DI. Instructions are broken into specific steps and students are guided by scaffolding and facilitation in order to achieve mastery and independence during tasks and activities (Fairbrother and Whitley 2014). However, the breadth of teacher training, skills and knowledge in determining the most appropriate DI programs for children with ASD, proves fundamental when evaluating outcomes.

Children with ASD typically present with difficulties within the areas of social communication and language, subsequently impacting on their learning. Individualised educational plans (IEPs) are essential for students and teachers in order to ensure that appropriate curriculum modifications, adaptations and accommodations are tailored to meet the needs of individual learners. Thus, specific teaching strategies, approaches and theories must be determined in order to enhance outcomes. On-going assessment, observation and review will help to evaluate the effectiveness of DI in supporting children with ASD in achieving the learning objectives set.

A study conducted by Ganz and Flores (2008) examined the effectiveness of DI in teaching language skills in elementary children with ASD. Results of this small study indicated an increase in expressive language overall. The researchers also report that one child was also able to generalise learning across settings with other people, suggesting improvements within the area of social communication and participation. However, it is important to highlight the limitations of this study, as outlined by the researchers themselves. The study was based on a small design and only included three participants. Nevertheless, replicating the study on a larger scale would strengthen the validity of results. In terms of efficiency, the teaching method was not compared to any other approach and this could be explored in further research. The researchers also acted as the teaching instructors within the study. Therefore, researcher bias could potentially influence outcomes and conclusions (Ganz and Flores 2008).

Applied behavioural analysis is an example of a direct instruction approach that is well documented throughout the literature within the field of Autism. Vietze and Lax (2018) found statistically significant improvements across several domains of child development including: communication skills, cognitive functioning, social and emotional behaviours and an improved access to learning for preschool children with ASD. Similarly, findings presented by Brenner et al. (2002) suggest improvements in receptive language skills of children who received a direct language learning instructional program. However, the inclusion criteria did not specify the intellectual abilities of participants. Therefore, it is unclear as to whether this approach would specifically benefit children with additional educational needs such as ASD in the classroom. Nevertheless, these results corroborate outcomes presented by Adams and Engelmann (1996) who stated that children involved in the DI approach made great progress within areas of social adjustment when compared to the other participants who did not receive DI.

Type Of Service: Rewriting
Type of Assignment: Essay
Subject: Education
Pages / Words: 17/4500
Number of sources: N/A
Academic Level: Master’s
Paper Format: MLA
Line Spacing: Double
Language Style: UK English

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