Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Special Education

First Advisor

Dr. George Haus

Second Advisor

Dr. Nickola Nelson

Third Advisor

Dr. Alonzo Hannaford

Fourth Advisor

Dr. UIdis Smidchens


Students with autism are being mainstreamed into general education classes in increasing numbers. This practice is based on the largely theoretical assumptions that normal peers will provide models of appropriate communication skills as well as increased opportunities for social interaction. However, there are few empirical studies available to corroborate these beliefs.

The purpose of this study was to compare the functional communication of the same group of students with autism across two settings, their general education classrooms and their self-contained, special education classrooms. Each of the students spent time in both settings during each school day. Their spontaneous language was examined to identify the number of utterances produced, the purposes for which they were used, and the appropriateness of the utterances in each setting.

Four elementary students with autism participated in this study. Language samples were collected by placing tape recorders on or near the desks of each participant. In addition, the investigator made on-line language sample transcripts using a pencil and paper to catch words that might be missed from listening to the audiotape. Descriptive notes of each subject's behavior and environmental events which occurred during the observations were also made.

Analysis of the data revealed that all four participants produced a greater number of utterances in the special education classrooms than they did in the general education settings. Although the participants generated utterances representative of all the functional communicative categories, there were significant differences in the proportion of utterances produced across subjects and across settings. All of the participants produced a greater number of appropriate utterances in the special education classrooms than they did in the general education rooms, although 3 of the students also produced more inappropriate utterances in the special education environments. For all 4 participants the special education classrooms appeared to facilitate language use more than did the general education settings. Environmental factors, such as class size and teacher behaviors, seemed to influence these results.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access