Research shows that paraprofessionals can implement supports in the classroom that will enable them to address challenging behavior among students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Research has also shown that functional communication training can be implemented in school settings among students with ASD.
What research has not shown, however, is if paraprofessionals can deliver functional communication training, particularly to students with ASD who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). And is it possible for special education teachers to deliver effective coaching to those paraprofessionals that would enable them to do that work?
Virginia Walker, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education and Child Development at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In 2017, OAR provided funding to Dr. Walker to examine the effects of a coaching model on paraprofessional implementation of functional communication training and to determine if it could be delivered by special education teachers.
The Effectiveness of the Coaching Model
In the first part of the study, the research team examined the coaching model. During the intervention, research team members:
- Provided an initial coaching session to review the functional communication training plan
- Shared several videos of other paraprofessionals implementing functional communication training
- Facilitated roleplays with the paraprofessional to practice functional communication training implementation
- Identified procedures that were implemented correctly and incorrectly with suggestions for improvement
The research team provided follow-up coaching as necessary until paraprofessionals met their performance goals of implementing functional communication training with 90 percent accuracy or higher across three consecutive observations.
The results suggested that the coaching model was effective in improving paraprofessional implementation outcomes. They also found that paraprofessionals perceived the coaching model to be appropriate and feasible for developing functional communication training skills.
Special Education Teachers as Coaches
In the second part of the study, the research team examined the effectiveness of the coaching model when delivered by special education teachers. The team used the same procedures as in the first part of the study with special education teachers in the coaching role rather than members of the research team.
Results indicated that special education teachers were able to implement the coaching model, resulting in improved paraprofessional implementation of functional communication training. Both the special education teachers and the paraprofessionals perceived the model as appropriate and feasible for developing functional communication training skills.
The results of this project illustrate that special education teachers can serve as coaches for the paraprofessionals in their classrooms. The teachers who participated in the research study reported that the coaching was effective and feasible, suggesting that this model can be a practical approach that teachers are likely to adopt. Paraprofessional implementation of functional communication training may be able to help reduce challenging behavior, thereby improving the learning environment and allowing teachers more time to focus on instruction.
The results of this project also illustrate that special education teachers can serve as coaches for the paraprofessionals in their classrooms. The teachers who participated in the research study reported that the coaching was effective and feasible, suggesting that this model can be a practical approach that teachers are likely to adopt.
More research with a larger number of participants is needed to demonstrate the model’s effectiveness as well as to explore whether the coaching model can work for other interventions such as addressing challenging behavior among students with ASD. Another important direction for future research is investigating the effectiveness and feasibility of having general education teachers deliver paraprofessional training. Paraprofessionals support students with ASD in a range of environments, and special education teachers are not always available to provide supervision in general education classrooms.