Elementary School Children with Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorders: Predictors of the Student-Teacher-Relationship
The student-teacher-relationship (STR) during the early school years is formative in children's later academic, social, and behavioral functioning. Children with typical development who enter school with behavior problems and social deficits are at heightened risk for developing poor STRs. Autism is the fastest growing special education disability category in the nation, yet little is known about the STR for this population, who, by definition, have associated behavioral and social deficits.
Participants were 90 elementary school-aged children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in public and non-public school campuses. Teacher and parent-rated measures were collected in addition to a child-completed task. Path modeling was utilized in order to investigate the STR as a multidimensional construct comprising underlying and interconnected variables that work together to influence the STR. The proposed path model consisted of several latent variables: classroom, child, family, and teacher characteristics. When teacher-rated data were entered into the model, a good fit was confirmed for the overall student-teacher relationship as well as for the Student Teacher Relationship subscale of student-teacher closeness. Child and classroom characteristics accounted for significant variance in the student-teacher. Students with more challenging child characteristics and in more restrictive educational settings were more likely to have poor-quality STRs.
When parent-ratings of child characteristics were entered, the model was a good fit for the overall student-teacher relationship as well as for the subscales of conflict, closeness, and dependency. Child characteristics and classroom characteristics accounted for the most variance in the model. Children who displayed more challenging child characteristics and who were in more restrictive educational settings had poorer-quality STRs. Specifically; students in restrictive educational settings were rated as experiencing more conflict and less closeness with the teacher. Furthermore, students from families with low-incomes were at-risk for low STR closeness. Student-teacher dependency was predicted by the teacher's classroom experience, with veteran teachers more likely to rate students as being dependent.