Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Special Education

Major Professor

Ann Cranston-Gingras


ASD, learning experiences, special education, teacher perceptions, teacher transformation


The purpose of this study was to explore the formation of teacher identity among four teachers of students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and my own by examining our perspectives, influences, and experiences at different points in our careers and determining the similarities and differences that exist in our professional and educational experiences. This study focused on how teacher identity is defined within the field of education, the current literature on teacher identity formation, and the importance of understanding the formation of teacher identity among teachers of children with autism, as well as how my own teacher identity has been formed. Throughout my research, I specifically emphasized the relationships between formation of teacher identity and teachers' experiences in and out of the classroom, the transformation or evolution teachers' identities during their careers, and the characteristics and experiences that specifically distinguish teachers of children with autism from other teachers. These main themes were guided by the concept that teacher identity is not only initially formed, but is a constantly evolving and complex process that is affected by teachers' experiences, interactions, influences, and personal and professional growth.

Through purposeful sampling, four teachers of children with autism in self-contained elementary classrooms within public schools were chosen to participate in this study. Data collection consisted of semi-structured interactive interviews, critical friends' sessions, and the creation of three artifacts by each participant. Artifacts for this study aided the participants in giving a more holistic view of their identities as teachers of children with autism. Artifacts consisted of teacher self-portraits with reflective prompts, buckets of their experiences with detailed explanations, and, photo journaling. Critical friends' sessions were utilized as a setting to reflect on and discuss each participant's artifacts. Both the critical friends' sessions and the creation of artifacts were based on the work on Samaras' (2011) self-study concept. During analysis, data were coded and categorized based on themes, topics, and key-words-in-context derived from a codebook created for this study. Max QDA, qualitative data analysis software, was utilized to code written data, pictures of the artifacts, and the multi-media critical friends' sessions. Codes were then merged and overall themes, similarities, and differences among participants were noted.

Narrative inquiry, self-study, and autoethnography were utilized to tell the stories of each of the participant as well as to juxtapose my own story with theirs. Findings indicated that these four teachers, like myself, have had similar experiences teaching children with autism, which are in some cases vastly different than the experiences of their colleagues who do not work with this population of students. The findings further indicate that these teachers were all attracted to this specific field because of their home and educational backgrounds. Overall teacher identity was created and transformed through a combination of life events and memorable moments in their teaching careers.

Implications of this study include the need for teacher learning communities for teachers of children with autism, support, and communication among veteran teachers of children with autism with the beginning teachers in the same field, and the need for teacher reflection when working in a position needing the utmost commitment and dedication. Narrative inquiry, the act of storytelling, will offer teachers, who may be struggling, the opportunity to compare their own experiences and find support through stories of teachers who have similar teacher identity formation experiences.