autism intervention

As more culturally and linguistically diverse learners enter the nation's classrooms, there's a critical need for teachers to select appropriate interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders.

Yet new research from the University of Washington College of Education shows race and ethnicity are largely ignored in developing evidence-based practices for supporting children with disabilities.

"We want teachers to select interventions that are a good match for students and their families," said researcher Elizabeth West, associate professor of special education. "Since diverse groups of learners aren't being included in research in adequate numbers, the findings of these studies to identify evidence-based practices may not be applicable to these students."

West is lead author of the paper "Racial and Ethnic Diversity of Participants in Research Supporting Evidence-Based Practices for Learners With Autism Spectrum Disorder," newly published in The Journal of Special Education.

Researchers examined 408 peer-reviewed, published studies of evidence-based practices for autism intervention and found that only 73, or 17.9 percent, reported the race, ethnicity or nationality of participants. Moreover, white children comprised a large majority of those in studies reporting race, ethnicity or nationality.

Out of the nearly 2,500 participants in the 408 studies, only 770 reported race, and 63.5 percent were white. Multiracial participants comprised 20.6 percent; black and Asian participants represented 6.8 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively; Hispanic/Latino comprised 2.5 percent; Middle Eastern participants made up 1.3 percent, and only one Native American participant was reported.

Those findings raise concerns that researchers may make overgeneralizations about their findings by suggesting interventions will work well for all students, even if a study contained few or no culturally or linguistically diverse participants.

West said evidence-based practices must be promoted and adopted that rely on culturally-responsive practices which are tailored to specific cultural contexts. That means recruiting a larger number of diverse participants in autism spectrum disorder intervention research and more comprehensive reporting of participant demographic factors to inform the development and implementation of evidence-based practices.

"It is imperative that interventions are selected that rely on practitioner wisdom and a valuing of family and community priorities," West said. "By examining 'what works and for whom,' we can increase the probability of educational benefits for all of our children."


Elizabeth West, Associate Professor of Special Education

Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications