According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (n.d.), theory is “a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena.” Theory is an important aspect in analyzing contemporary issues because existing interventions tend to be rooted in theory and through understanding, the theory behind the intervention a person can gain a deeper understanding of not only the intervention, but also the contemporary issue (SNHU, n.d.). The creation of a theory on a contemporary issue is often the first step in creating a hypothesis, intervention plan, and research study. Research studies all begin with an idea or a theory about an issue that then evolves into a hypothesis, which then becomes the purpose of a research study. Theories do not always have to be correct to be valuable in in analyzing contemporary issues as an incorrect theory can still allow for the interpretation and understanding of data (Campbell, 1990). An incorrect theory can still be a good theory if it teaches readers and researchers something new about the contemporary issue that they could not have learned from something else (Klein & Zedeck, 2004).
When researching integrating high functioning autistic children into a mainstream educational environment, I came across three main theories about how to help autistic children integrate with their peers without special needs. The first theory is that autistic children could be better integrated with their peers if they were assigned a small peer group of three children without special needs in their class to act as the autistic child’s peer mentors (Bradley, 2016). The idea behind this theory is that it would make it easier for the autistic children to integrate if they had a small group of peers to assist them; these peer mentors could help the child with understanding and fitting in with the rest of their peers. The second theory is that autism paraprofessionals trained in the Pivotal Response Treatment could increase the level of reciprocal social behavior in children with autism in relation to their peers without special needs (Feldman & Matos, 2013). These paraprofessionals would receive specialized training that would assist them in facilitating social interactions between children with special and without special needs in order to assist in integration. The third theory is that teaching children with autism social skills, communication skills, rules, and expectations prior to entering a mainstream educational environment could assist them in integrate with their peers without special needs (Humphrey & Lewis, 2008; Mardiyanti, 2016).
Bradley, R. (2016). "Why single me out?" Peer mentoring, autism and inclusion in mainstream secondary schools. British Journal of Special Education, 43(3), 272-288.
Campbell, J. P. (1990). The role of theory in industrial and organizational psychology. In M. D.
Dunnette & L. M. Hough (Eds.). Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1(2). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
Feldman, E. K., & Matos, R. (2013). Training paraprofessionals to facilitate social interactions between children with autism and their typically developing peers. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 15(3), 169-179.
Klein, K. J., & Zedeck, S. (2004). Introduction to the special section on theoretical models and conceptual analyses: theory in applied psychology: lessons (re)learned. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(6), 931-933. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.89.6.931
Mardiyanti, M. (2016). Strategies for successful transition into mainstream schools for young children with autism spectrum disorders: a case study. Nurse Media: Journal of Nursing, 6(1), 1-8. doi:10.14710/nmjn.v6i1.11815
Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (n.d.). Theory. Retrieved from https://www.merriam- webster.com/dictionary/theory
SNHU. (n.d.). Module Two: The Role of Theories. Retrieved from https://bb.snhu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-17615278-dt-content-rid-58496762_1/courses/PSY-407-17EW1-MASTER/PSY-407%20Student%20Documents/psy407_m2_overview.pdf
My interest in Contemporary Issues
The area of psychology that I have the largest interest in is child psychology with a focus on children with autism. I became interested in the psychology of children with special needs after I began working as an after school elementary counselor for children with autism. Being exposed to children with autism on a daily basis made me want to learn more about them so that I could further my understanding of them in order to be able to work with them more effectively. One issue surrounding autism that I would like to explore is integration. The autistic children that I work with spend most of their school day in a special needs classroom with other children with special needs. I would like to learn about how children with autism handle being in an integrated school environment with peers that do not have special needs.
When it comes to placing a child with autism in a mainstream classroom, there are multiple options that are utilized by different schools around the world to better integrate the child with their non-autistic peers and to assist them in integrating successfully. According to Bradley (2016), a new peer-mentoring program which was tested in England found that creating small peer groups for each child with autism allowed the child to gain a greater understanding of work skills, friendship, and bullying. The results of the study showed that each autistic participant experienced an increase in his or her level of level of self-esteem and social satisfaction and a decrease in problems with bullying (Bradley, 2016). Feldman and Matos (2013) examined the use of autism paraprofessionals in facilitating social interactions between children with autism with their non-special-needs peers. The study found that paraprofessionals could learn to implements social facilitation procedures with fidelity if they were fully trained in in the Pivotal Response Treatment (Feldman & Matos, 2013).
While there are multiple options available for integrating autistic children into classrooms with their peers without special needs, the approach chosen may have to be based upon the individual. A non-verbal child with autism might be better suited for an integration method that uses autism paraprofessionals instead of a peer-mentoring program. A child with high functioning autism could greatly benefit from an integration that utilizes a peer-mentoring program as he or she might be able to better integrate with the help of children of a similar age. Further exploration is needed in order to best determine how, and if, children with autism should be integrated with their peers without special needs.
Bradley, R. (2016). "Why single me out?" peer mentoring, autism and inclusion in mainstream secondary schools. British Journal Of Special Education, 43(3), 272-288.
Feldman, E. K., & Matos, R. (2013). Training paraprofessionals to facilitate social interactions between children with autism and their typically developing peers. Journal Of Positive Behavior Interventions, 15(3), 169-179.
My experience with Autism
As an elementary after school counselor for autistic children, I found my research into the autism integration to be helpful in assisting me in gaining a better understanding of the children in my group that are in mainstream classrooms. The research also gave me some ideas into how to use my after school time with them to assist them in better integrating with their peers without special needs. The main problem that I encountered with the research was the lack of research into how after school programs could help the integration of autistic children into a mainstream environment and the lack of research into the integration of low functioning autistic children. I feel like there needs to be a large amount of new research conducted on the topic of autism integration in order to discover all the factors that can play a role in the successful integration of an autistic child into a mainstream educational environment.
The biggest challenge that I faced with researching my contemporary issue of autism integration was keeping myself on track. As a person who works with children with autism I had to stop myself from constantly reading articles about children with autism that were not related to my topic. I kept finding all sorts of interesting research articles and I had to force myself to stick to the ones that were relevant to my topic in order to avoid procrastinating my research into autism integration.
The aspect of my research that surprised me the most was the fact that a good amount of the material was rather old and that there was a lack of new research being conducted. This surprised me as the number of children with autism seems to increase each year with more and more of them attending schools without special education classrooms. To me this would make the topic of autism integration very relevant, and I would have thought that there would have been more current research into ways to improve an autistic child’s integration into a mainstream educational environment.