Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Psychological and Social Foundations

Major Professor

Linda M. Raffaele Mendez, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Kelly A. Powell-Smith, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Teresa Nesman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rose Iovannone, Ph.D.


Autism, Least restrictive environment, General education, Beliefs, Parental involvement


The practice of inclusion, and even the term itself, have been the subject of controversy over the last several decades and it appears that "inclusion" may look very different depending upon the student, educator, and setting (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994). Recently, placement in general education settings has become a dominant service delivery model for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), (Simpson & Myles, 1998), yet Individual Education Programs (IEPs) for students with ASD tend to be the most often disputed and often contain procedural errors, including failure to consider the Least Restrictive Mandate (Yell et al., 2003).

This study represents a qualitative case study of a school district in West Central Florida working to build capacity for inclusive education. Qualitative case study methodology was used to explore (a) educators' definitions, attitudes, beliefs, and emotions regarding inclusion of students with ASD, (b) how the understandings and attitudes regarding inclusion impact the way educators make decisions about inclusion and educational programs for students with ASD, and (c) educators' and parents' criteria for determining "successful" inclusion and their perceptions about the success of current inclusion efforts. A team of educators (general education, special education, specialists, and administrators) who were involved in inclusion efforts were purposively selected for recruitment in this study. Two focus groups were conducted to engage them in discussion and decision-making regarding educational plans for students with ASD. Subsequently, semi-structured interviews were conducted individually with each member of the team as a follow-up to the focus group. Additionally, individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with parents of included students with ASD.

Results indicated that educators understood inclusive education to be a highly individualized enterprise which is developed on a "case-by-case basis" but were generally positive about inclusion for students with ASD. Educator participants articulated the characteristics of students they believed to be "ideal inclusion candidates;" students' behavioral functioning and potential for disrupting typical peers was a major consideration. Parents and educators shared very similar goals for students with ASD, but shared stories suggesting their interactions often involve conflict and ill will. Implications for practice and recommendations for future research are offered.