This chapter comprises of the background to the study, statement of the problem, objectives of the study, significance of the study, research questions, theoretical perspective, limitations and lastly the definition of key terms.
Background of the Study
Autism is one of the top primary five severe developmental disorders that occur in the human race. According to the National Autistic Society of Malaysia (NASOM, 2012); it is stated that autism is a form of permanent and long lasting brain disorder which affects one's learning abilities, language communication as well as having a tremendous effect on the mental, emotional and social development growth of the child. With the presence of this developmental disability, the autistic child will not be able to communicate and interact effectively with family members and also with society or the community; thus resulting in the child having difficulties in forming relationships with the people around.
Autistics or autistic children always interact differently or against the norms of the society to the world around them so much that their behaviours and actions are considered bizarre to those who are normal. In other words, autistics are practically living in their own world. Poor social interactions, repetitive or restrained behaviours along with language and communication delays or deficits are the major characteristics that define a person with autism (Durrleman & Zufferey, 2009).
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This is a type of developmental disorder where the range of its mode and severity changes from individual to individual. NASOM (2012) further stated that an autistic child can experience mild symptoms such as functioning normally-well in an educational classroom with the specialized equipments and services, but at times; the child could also encounter some severe symptoms for instance, being institutionalized or confined and being silent or 'mute'. Simon Baron-Cohen (DK Publishing, 2012) believes that autistic children lack the Theory of Mind (TOM).
Basically, autism is a development spectrum disorder in the brain that affects the person's abilities in communicating, forming relationships with people and subsequently responding accordingly to the outside world. People having this condition or disorder will show repetitive behaviours, obsessive or narrowed-down interests and they will eventually find difficulties interacting socially (Schoenstadt, 2008). An autistic child is unable to connect and relate to the surrounding people inclusive of the members of the child's family (Bishop, 1989). In spite of the fact that the intellectual aspect of the autistic child will be affected, the intellectual abilities of each autistic child vary from each other (Schoenstadt, 2006).
1.1.1 Impairment of social communication. When social communication among those who have autism is involved, it does not mean that it is just about speech, pronunciation, articulation, grammar or vocabulary; it also refers to how the language is being used to communicate with others (Tommey & Tommey, 2011). The main diagnostic criterion for autism is the language impairments or language delays. According to Durrleman and Zufferey (2009), there are three characteristics in identifying the language impairments of those with autism. They are "(1) late or lack of development of language without attempt to compensate with gestures, (2) impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation, and (3) stereotyped, repetitive, and idiosyncratic language".
1.1.2 Impairment of social interaction. Social interaction impairments include the basic problems dealing with understanding, initiating and developing personal relationships, ranging from turn-taking interaction to those cooperative ones (Tommey & Tommey, 2011). The lack of recognized social skills results in a deficiency in the social realm that is necessary to befriend with someone or to understand the complex demands of others. The impairment of social interaction also includes the understanding of the others' expectations, needs and wants. Sometimes the autistics want to initiate and establish a relationship; however, they just have no idea on how to do it.
1.1.3 Impairment of imagination. Imagination impairment is often classified by the specialists as the inflexibility or rigidity of thoughts and having the lack of play. People with autism have difficulty to comprehend abstract thought formations such as adapting to the change in environment or anticipating an event (Tommey & Tommey, 2011). The implications of imagination impairments are often being manifested as the crucial problems of bringing into the mind. Autistics have metathesiophobia, which is the fear of change and they have a high level preference for sameness and uniformity. In short, those with autism have restricted interests and limited play.
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Focusing on teachers or special educators from the various special education schools in Malaysia, this research studies the teachers' behavioural attitude, perception and awareness of the language development in the English Language - which is the functional academic field among autistic children.
Statement of the Problem
Language development and communication are always the hot topic for psycholinguists as well as speech therapists when the subject is narrowed-down to autism. Yes, there have been studies done on the differences of expressive language and sentence comprehension between the autistic and the normally-developing children; nevertheless little information is obtainable and accessible regarding the parallelism of the language development pattern between these two groups.
One of the primary unanswered and still pending questions in relation to autism and language is to comprehend "if the patterns of language development found in autism parallels that of normally-developing children with a substantial delay, or if language is disrupted in a more fundamental way" (Durrleman & Zufferey, 2009). Parallelism in this aspect refers to language development of autistic children is on par with the normal-developing children.
Throughout the years, there are studies and researches done on language impairment among the autistic children, as well as books and magazines published as a practical guide for parents and teachers to help autistic children improve in terms of language acquisition and communication. Although many of the researches conducted were based on western countries such as the United States and Britain, the studies based on the autism in Malaysia were considered inadequate. Needless to say, little is known on the perspective or the viewpoint of the special educators in regards to special education with structure syllabus in the context of Malaysia.
Objective of the Study
The main objective of this research study is to assess a significant number of special educators in the various special education schools in Malaysia, with the purpose of determining the attitude, perception and awareness of the special educators towards the language development pattern in English of those autistic children. On top of that, this research also seeks discussion as to determine the presence of parallelism of language development pattern among the autistics and normal growing children. Basically, this research is to study the response of the educators towards the syllabus and the language development of autistic children.
Another significant objective of this research paper is to provide a guideline for the special educators and to bring forth recommendations or effective ways (if any) on the methods of teaching to strengthen or improve the syllabus and teaching materials for schools to be used in autism education.
Significance of the Study
The significance of the research study is to discover the attitude and perception of the special educators towards language development patterns in English Language among autistic children. Likewise, an evaluation of the attitudes towards the current syllabus written for special education schools will be stated as well. Not to forget, the perception or what the special educators perceive and are aware of the language development of English in autistic children will be taken into much significance.
This research study will discover whether there is any parallelism of language development pattern between autistic and normally-developing children. This study is of importance to the special teachers or other educational staff as well as speech therapists in order to understand children with autism better in terms of language development pattern and language acquisition. There will be new ways of helping and giving children with autism a better and brighter future as well as increasing their intellectual competency granted that this study is successfully carried out.
This research study will cover the three key areas in regards to special educators in teaching children with autism in terms of language development pattern of English Language. The three key areas or the research questions are as follows:
What are the attitudes of the special educators towards the current syllabus for children with learning disabilities?
What are the special educators' perceptions towards the language development pattern of autistics in terms of learning English?
Are the special educators aware that there is a possibility of parallelism in terms of language development pattern between autistic and normal-developing children?
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As written in (DK Publishing, 2012), one of the most influential and prominent theories is the Theory of Mind (TOM) by Simon Baron-Cohen. This theory of Baron-Cohen's is supported by his own observations in relation to the sex differences in the brain in which provided a proposition that autism is one way or another an extreme mode of the male brain. As Premack and Woodruff (1978) defined in their seminar paper, TOM is the ability to impute cerebral states to oneself as well as to others. It is also the competency of making inferences regarding what people believed in, along with allowing one to figure out what they would do. TOM is in fact the ability to interpret other people's actions and emotions. Baron-Cohen believes that people having autism lacks this feature. Thus, they are unable to perceive people's intentions and assess the state of the minds. According to Chin and Bernard-Opitz (2000), due to the lack of TOM, children with autism are unable to adhere to the conversational rules, thus; showing inappropriate topic shifts and turn takings. All in all, people with autism would be unable to assign beliefs and intuitions to the other party as to predict their behaviours (Baron-Cohen, Leslie, & Frith, 1985).
Limitations of the Study
One of the major limitations encountered during the research process was the classification of the children with different language disabilities in the special education schools. The special educators that were entrusted with teaching a class will have a combination class of autistic children, Down syndrome children and Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) children. The special educators were not able to assess each individual due to the fact that the special education schools do not separate the children into the different classes according to their learning disabilities, ultimately having children with different learning disabilities and with different levels of intellect grouped together into a class. Therefore, the observations done for this research may not be accurate as the classes are not entirely filled with children with autism.
Another limitation lies within the small number of participants, which are the special educators. They were selected from the various special education schools in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh; from among special educators have experience with both the autistic and normally-developing children. Therefore, the findings obtained from the research may not be generalized to the whole population of special educators in Malaysia.
Definition of Key Terms
1.8.1 Autism. Autism is one of the subdivisions of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) which affects the normal development of the brain in relations to communication and social skills (DK Publishing, 2012; Brealy & Davies, 2006). People with autism are called autistics and they may have poor communication as well as interacting skills. Interacting socially with people have autism can be said to be a challenge as many of them either partly fail to converse and speak or simply show little or no interest in others.
1.8.2 Language development. Language development simply means "the process by which a child begins to understand language and communicate" (Penn, 2012). Basically, it is how the child develops and acquires a language. Children who acquire or develop a language also eventually know the methods of combining sentences into larger units of discourse (Hoff, 2009).
1.8.3 Parallelism. Parallelism is the extent to which English or any other language that is taught in both normal and special education schools are on par with the syllabus.
1.8.4 Special educators. A special educator is a teacher who is directly involved with children with learning disabilities such as autistics, Down syndrome children and hyperactive kids. Sometimes known as special education teachers, they are among those who provide day-to-day teaching and instruction as well as other support for those students with disabilities. In this research, special educators are meant as qualified teachers who have the experience of teaching both normal-developing and those children with learning disabilities.
It was back in the days when autism was considered a rare condition or disorder where the occurrence of having an autistic child is five out of 10,000. Nevertheless, the rate of autisms skyrocketed and now "the numbers are staggering, indicating a rate of 1 out of 88 eight-year-old children" (ARI, 2012).
Although this statistical report was done in the United States, the rate of autism in Malaysia is increasing tremendously as well. There has been both government and public concern regarding the education system for those with learning disabilities for the past few years. This research is therefore believed to impart recommendations for the special educators as well as the education authorities to come up with better guidelines for those with learning disabilities. In a nutshell, this chapter presented an overall view on the central and primary ideas of the research.
As stated in Chapter One, this study focused on the behavioural characteristics of special educators towards the language development of English among autistic children. This chapter provides the definitions and backgrounds to the theories and concepts that are related to the research study. It is then followed by the reviews of previous studies and researches on autism and language development that are similar to this research study.
2.1 What is Autism?
Scientifically known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), autism is one of the umbrella terms for a specific wide spectrum of developmental disorders. According to Dr. Sekandari (2010), ASD is the "pervasive impairment in thinking, feeling, language and the ability to relate to others." Basically, this Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD) is a combination of neurobiological indisposition that definitely will affect a child's capability and competence to communicate, interact, relate and learn in normal environment or setting.
As reported by National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS, 2012), there will be delays or deficits in the developmental aspects of communication competency and socialization skills. With these disorders, the development of the brain and how the brain works will be affected. These disorders are usually being diagnosed when the child is aged eighteen months to two years. These PDD includes Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett's Syndrome and Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) (WebMD, LLC, 2012). Suffice it to say, PDD is distinguished "by severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development: reciprocal social interaction skills, communication skills, or the presence of stereotyped behaviour, interests, and activities" (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
In simpler terms, according to Hall & Isaacs (2012); autism is a neurological disorganization that influences the functioning and development of the child's brain. The greatest areas in a child that are affected by autism are the communication and social development, specifically the language development of the child. Sometimes being attributed as childhood autism or early infantile autism, the manifestations of this disorganization vary immensely depending on the biological age and the developmental level of the individual with autism.
Difficulty in communicating, difficulty in social relationships or interactions and the lack of imagination and creative play are the three major levels of difficulties, in which is classified as the triad of impairments in autism (Brealy & Davies, 2006). Basically, this triad is often followed by a repetitive and narrow activity pattern which is comforting to the autistic child and may be considered a deviant by normally-developing people. It is of utmost importance to know the severity of each autistic child in each triad as the impairments may be different and have diversified results in the various stages of development.
2.1.1 Features of an autistic child. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has published a list of standard guidelines and the World Health Organization (WHO - ICD-10) used the listed guidelines to recognize or diagnose a child with autism. According to DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), its diagnostic criteria are tabulated (refer to Appedix A).
No eye contact, no speech development, throwing tantrums and the constant repetitive behaviour are the classic symptoms of autism. Back in the days when doctors knew nothing about autism or pervasive developmental disorders, autism is regarded as the outcome of parental rejection. Parents having children with these symptoms are being branded as "refrigerator parents" as they were labelled career-obsessed and aloof (Olmsted & Blaxill, 2010). It was thought that parental coldness or the negligence of parents in taking care of their children is the primary cause of autism.
A few decades ago, the possibility of conceiving a child with autism was five out of 10,000 cases. However, a recent research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (MMWR, 2012), the overall approximate calculation regarding the prevalence of ASDs among the 14 Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network sites was one in 88 children who were aged 8 years old.
2.2 What is Special Education?
Educators back then had a common understanding that those who failed to meet the educational expectations of what is considered as 'normal' will be removed from the particular education system and, placed them in a more suitable educational instruction that is specially catered to them (Association, 1936; Winzer, 2007). Hence, with this typical paradigm of the educators; separate special classes were designed and soon mushroomed in no time at all. These special classes were occasionally term as 'ungraded classes' due to the fact the students across a few grade levels were grouped and taught together (Osgood, 2008). In these special classes, significant emphasis was always placed mostly on job-related or developing manual skills; rather than having a focus on academics. In the year 1884, Alexander Graham Bell instilled the term 'special education' among people (Winzer, 1993).
When it comes to special education, it simply means "specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including - (a) instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and (b) instruction in physical education" (Friend, 2011). Special education is the medium of which those children having learning disabilities are assured of receiving a proper education distinctively designed to help them develop their abilities to reach their learning potential.
Special education is indeed a discipline that has evolved from its inception in the late 1940s to the present day and experienced changes with a view to cater to the children's needs due to its dynamic nature. Therefore, educators had to keep up with the change to the new and effective methods of special education teachings.
2.3 Review of Literature
Among the recent studies done on ASD in connection with language and education, most of the abundant researches were carried out in countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Europe. Most of the studies focused on the syntactic and pragmatic aspects of language impairments as well as the language acquisition among the autistic children.
2.3.1 Language and TOM development in ASD versus AS. The study on the aspects of language and TOM development among autism and Asperger's syndrome done by Jessica Paynter and Candida Peterson (2010) was the recent study carried out to explore the relationship between language and TOM development among people with autism and Asperger's. The researchers aimed to explore further the relative pace of the development of TOM in those of AS compared to both HFA and typical age-matched group of children. Asperger's syndrome (AS) is a pervasive neuro-developmental disorder closely related to the autism spectrum disorder. Language-acquisition history is the major key distinction to differentiate high-functioning autism (HFA) and AS (Dissanayake & Macintosh, 2003; Eisenmajer, et al., 1996). As according to Eisenmajer et al. (1996), both groups of HFA and AS suffered clinically extreme deprivations in imagination, cognitive flexibility and socialization. TOM, on the other hand; characterized the awareness that people's actions are being led by their own false or true beliefs.
As being evaluated using the standard 'litmus' false-beliefs tasks calling for the prediction of intuitions or behaviours of people whose thoughts and paradigms are far away from the reality (Wellman, Cross, & Watson, 2001), in which most of the typically-developing children obtain TOM between the age of three to five. Rather than using the preceding method of false-beliefs tests, Klin (2000) evaluated TOM in a more contemporary way by using open-ended narrative descriptions pertaining to the wordless geometric cartoon films. As being evaluated by Paynter & Peterson (2010), when being in comparison with the people in their age group with HFA; children with AS developed the false-beliefs apprehension earlier than the children with HFA. Syntactic skills definitely contributed distinctively and extremely over and above both the vocabulary as well as the other non-linguistic TOM that associated with the prediction of individual's variability in the children's false-belief understanding (Paynter & Peterson, 2010).
2.3.2 ASD with syntactic impairment. The research on the nature of syntactic impairment using the implementation of truncation theory among autistic children done by Stephanie Durrleman and Sandrine Zufferey (2009) was considered as one of the most significant research carried out. The acquisition of syntax or the syntactic abilities among the autistic children is somewhat a controversial matter as few researches were done. Eigsti, Bennetto, & Dadlani (2007) also discovered that "few studies have examined grammatical abilities in autism, with mixed findings". There were some research findings (Fein & Waterhouse, 1979; Howlin, 1984a, 1984b; Tager-Flusberg, Calkins, Bauberger, Anderson, & Chadwick-Dias, 1990) that bring about the syntactic development of autistic children is being delayed however it follows a general typical trajectory in regards to the normally-developing children; while other studies (Bartolucci, 1976; Bartolucci & Albers, 1974; Bartolucci, Pierce, & Streiner, 1980; Dalgleish, 1975) came to the conclusion that the syntactic abilities is atypical in a more crucial and fundamental way. Durrleman & Zufferey (2009) discussed about the acquisition of syntax through the areas such as questions, tense phrase and verb phrase.
According to Crain & Lillo-Martin (1999), the syntactic transformations for instance the subject-auxiliary inversion began at around the age of three in the typically developing children. The subject-auxiliary inversion questions are such as 'Is Mommy angry?', 'What is he eating?' and so on. Eigsti, Bennetto, & Dadlani (2007) achieved a conclusion that the autistic children had response patterns that were extremely different than the typically developing group of children. As for this aspect of grammar; Eigsti, Bennetto & Dadlani (2007) in fact noted a significant discrepancy not only in comparison with the typical developing children, but also among the non-developmental delays group of children. It would be a whole new world to comprehend exactly what variety of properties found that were to be considered as different in the interrogative or question productions among the children with autism.
Roberts, Rice, & Tager-Flusberg (2004) examined that the tense phrase acquisition among children with autism and came to a conclusion that a subordinate division of these language impaired children showed a relatively high rate of past tense omission. Tager-Flusberg (1989) stated that it is in fact children with autism have found to know and indicate past tense extremely less than children with Down syndrome.
The lexical abilities among the children with autism as being observed also appeared to be reasonably spared. However, it is not an indication stating that there are no complications and questions raised at all. Eigsti et al. (2007) distinguished a sharp variation between managing the grammatical and lexical areas and came to an inference that "in contrast to syntactic development, the present study demonstrated that lexical knowledge was an area of relative strength for the young children with autism". The study conducted illustrated the use of verb phrase was almost in an equivalent level to that found in typical-developing children which matched for non-verbal IQ. The statement of that the lexical abilities of autistic children are somewhat spared is as well affirmed by Walenski, Mostofsky, Gidley-Larson, & Ullman (2008) whose research disclosed the "better-than-normal" performance for lexical processing.
2.3.3 ASD with pragmatic language impairment screening. The research that examined the screening for pragmatic language impairment which was done by Mieke Ketelaars et al. (2009) is the up-to-the-minute research done. With respect to obtain the feasibility of using the Children's Communication Checklist (CCC) as a screening device for the general public, the researchers analyzed the validity of it among the children in a kindergarten in the community. Numerous studies (Cohen, et al., 1998; Geurts, et al., 2004; Laws & Bishop, 2004) have tried to exemplify the problems and difficulties of pragmatic language found in some children. These pragmatic circumstances can range from the inability to follow to the needs of the conversational partner, to having problems understanding and conveying intentions and lastly to the insufficient management skills of discourse (Landa, 2005). The preceding studies done have explored the problems of pragmatic language in the frame of reference of the developmental disorder such as autism; nevertheless, the problems of pragmatic language are not necessarily distinctive to these disorders (Bishop & Norbury, 2002). CCC was originated to assess the aspects of communication which are normally undetected during the basic language assessment carried out (Bishop, 1998). According to Pickstone, Hannon, & Fox (2002), the CCC screening is simply the means of identifying the children whose pragmatic proficiency is of such that referral to a speech and language professional; nonetheless, the screening device can only be used as a first notion for specialist treatment.
Roth & Spekman (1984) identified three extensive areas in which categorized individual skills into: communicative intentions, presupposition and the social organization of discourse. The individual skills that is linked to communicative intentions is inclusive of the breadth of intentions that an individual can perceive, understand and convey, in addition to the forms that were used by the individual to express those intentions. Furthermore, presupposition skills are the abilities to assess the listener's informational and public needs. It is also a skill whereby the individual has got to adapt one's message form and content accordingly. Alas, social organization of discourse is the abilities to maintain an effective and efficient communication or conversation by having turn-takings, conversational repairs and the management of topics covered (Ketelaars et al., 2009).
Another research study carried out by Botting, Conti-Ramsden, & Crutchley (1997) discovered that the concordances between the educators and the formal tests were considered low, specifically for the tests measuring the competency of pragmatics among the children. Suffice it to say, the screening device can be used to identify the impairment of pragmatic language which may or may not be linked to the problems arises from structural language (Ketelaars et al., 2009). The CCC appeared to be a beneficial instrument to perform such early detection among children with language disabilities.
2.3.4 ASD and language acquisition. The revise analysis on the complex literature regarding language acquisition among people with autism spectrum disorders done by Inge-Marie Eigsti, Ashley B. de Marchena, Jillian M. Schuh and Elizabeth Kelley (2011) was considered one of the utmost thorough review paper written. The presence of language deficits or delays is practically a clear sign of developmental impairments, which of utmost importance when the study of such developmental disabilities can help to clarify the nature of language acquisition process; by microscopic-focus on the developmental course of language acquisition (Cicchetti & Rogosch, 1996; Curtiss, Katz, & Tallal, 1992). The paper published by Eigsti et al. (2011) reviewed the empirical evidence regarding language acquisition among the people with autism throughout the domains of prosody, phonology as well as discourse and pragmatic functions.
As stated by Eigsti et al. (2011), the approach or theory of pragmatics "refers to the use of language as a tool for communication; specifically, how language is used in the context of social interaction". Pragmatics is the study that comprises of both linguistic functions and non-linguistic function such as body language, eye contact and facial expressions. Discourse is a closely-related theory, in which refers to the longer connected course of speech. As stated by Eigsti et al. (2011), both discourse and pragmatics function as the utmost 'socially motivated' key areas of language, in which "they require the speaker to be aware of and respond to the social status, knowledge, interest, motivation, and other qualities of the listener (...)". Basically, pragmatics and discourse both are commonly acknowledged as the most consistently-impaired areas among children with autism (Kelley, Paul, Fein, & Naigles, 2006). A seminal research paper done by Tager-Flusberg and Anderson (1991) found that there were six children with autism spectrum disorder that were found to be less conversationally responsive than their own peers with Down syndrome; in addition to the case, there was no sort of improvement in this trait throughout the course of a year. All in all, pragmatics deficits are approximately universal in children with both high-functioning and low-functioning ASD.
Closely linked to the pragmatic abilities is none other than the comprehension and production of prosody; in which revolves around the stress, rhythm, and intonation of speech. As an understanding, the impairments of prosodic have been detected in every research of children with autism that were conducted to the present date. A research conducted a couple decades back then, Rutter, Mahwood, & Howlin (1992) found that prosodic abnormalities were indeed present in children with autism. Another research examined that children with ASD generated less appropriate prosodic phrasing, in which inclusive of the lexical stress misplacing, appropriateness of resonance qualities are low and slowed phrasing (Shriberg, et al., 2001). At lasts, the only latest assessment of prosodic comprehension in children with autism by Diehl, Bennetto, Watson, Gunlogson, & McDonough (2008) found that the ability among the children with autism to use prosody to solve syntactic ambiguities was considered as terribly low. All studies as of present showed that children with autism have difficulties in the comprehension and production of prosody; nevertheless, more research ought to be done to identify the starting point of these difficulties faced.
The study of phonology refers to the way a speaker organizes the speech sounds of the language to bring meanings together with the overlapping of phonetics. Basically, it is the physical articulation and production of speech. Phonology is a tremendous target for research among the ASD due to a variety of clinical studies done that presumes this area to be sensitive in relations to neurological problems (Culbertson & Tanner, 2001). An early research by Bartak, Rutter, & Cox (1975) examined 47 boys with autism were found to have few articulatory problems in both spontaneous and structured speech settings. Another research done by Rapin, Dunn, Allen, Stevens, & Fein (2009) came to a conclusion that less than half of the relatively huge sample of school-aged children with ASD had very severe expressive phonology deficits. Generally, articulatory and phonological problems can be found in early childhood as well as low-functioning children with autism (Lord & Paul, 1997).
2.4 Framework of the Study
Previous studies carried out during the past years did not specifically show any perspectives in regards to the special educators' point of views. Suffice to say, past researches did not provide enough information in relations to administering knowledge and education effectively and efficiently for the children with autism. Past researches by psycholinguists as well as professors were conducted in Western countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and the Europe; along these lines, little studies were done specifically in Malaysia. Generally speaking, most of the previous studies published were insufficient in terms of the special educators' opinions and suggestions of autistic children in Malaysia acquiring English. Thus, the goal of the present study is to shed further empirical light on the special educators' behavioural characteristics in regards to the language development of English among children with autism in Malaysia. This present research will fill up the gaps which were present in the past studies done.
In this research paper; the attitude, perception and awareness of the special educators in Malaysia are the three keys areas that will be investigated by the researcher. This research will focus on the behavioural characteristics of the special educators towards the English language development among the children with autism.
This research paper also aims to investigate the parallelism or inclusiveness of the autistic children and the typical-developing children in terms of acquiring English. Participants of the research are made up of special educators from the various special education schools in Malaysia that uses English language as the medium of instruction.
This chapter focuses on the methodology used in this research paper by providing in-depth explanation on the population and sampling, instrumentation, procedure and time frame, analysis plan, validity and reliability and lastly assumptions of this study.
This research plans to examine the language development pattern of the English Language among the autistic children from the special educators' perspective: attitude, perception and awareness. Research questions are vital in a research study as it is the basic foundation that grounded the whole research. As for this research, the three main research questions are formulated as follows:
What are the attitudes of the special educators towards the current syllabus for children with learning disabilities?
What are the special educators' perceptions towards language development pattern of autistics in terms of learning English?
Are the special educators aware that there is a possibility of parallelism in terms of language development pattern between autistic and normal-developing children?
With regards to answer the above research questions; a survey questionnaire was designed to obtain data and findings from the special educators from the various special education schools in Malaysia to explore the perception of the special educators regarding the language development among children with autism.
3.2 Population and Sampling
Taking into account that the objectives of this research is exploring the three key behavioural characteristics of the special educators in Malaysia towards language development pattern among children with learning disabilities specially those autistics, a significant sample of special educators from the different special education schools in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh was chosen. Educators who are teaching or coaching children with learning disabilities were selected as participants because they were considered as those who are physically and mentally involved in teaching those with learning disabilities, and particularly autistic children in this focused study.
Due to the different method of teaching styles and syllabus, the participants were believed to have fulfilled the specifications and the requirements of the research where they have attained a specific knowledge on how to teach children with learning disabilities as well as certain distinctive characteristics. Most importantly, there was a higher possibility of accuracy in the analysis as they are special education teachers rather than just the normal educationists.
In as much as to obtain participants for this research study, the convenience method of purposive (selective) sampling was used on the basis of the criterion-based selection (Maxwell, 1996) in order to find a special education school or learning centre to work with in this research. The schools were selected due to the high enrolment of the schools; in addition use syllabuses to teach within the school walls. The special education teachers in Malaysia, specifically in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh were chosen as participants of the research study because among all the teachers or lecturers in Malaysia, they are more closely related to the field of study - which is autism.
In order for this research study to be made possible, two elicitation devices namely personal interviews and survey questionnaire were used. The researcher used triangulation mixed method design (Creswell, 2002), which is the type of research design that comprises of various research methods to explore the field of study.
3.3.1 Survey questionnaire design. There were four fundamental areas in the survey questionnaire; (1) the participants' personal information and educational background, (2) participants' attitude towards the current syllabus teaching, (3) participants' perception towards language development of autistic children and (4) participants' awareness towards the possibility of parallelism. Thus, the survey questionnaire is divided into four sections; Section A, Section B, Section C and lastly Section D.
The survey comprised of mainly yes-no questions and two open-ended questions. The survey began with a fundamental paragraph about the researcher's study, the four main components covered and lastly the confidentiality of the research survey.
Section A in a nutshell required the participants' personal information within several given multiple-choice questions such as the gender, age and employment status. The researcher also acquired the special qualifications and special areas in children education from the participants.
In Section B, the questions correlated with the participants' attitude and the current syllabus teaching using a set of yes-no questions. There was contingency question embedded in this section as well. In addition to this, questions based on a five-point Likert scale ranging from "Strongly Agree" (5) to "Strongly Disagree" (1) were included to comprehend the participants' attitude regarding the teaching syllabus and materials.
Likewise, Section C obtained information of the participants' perception towards the language development of autistic children. A series of yes-no questions and contingency question were included together with a set of five-point Likert scale questions. Basically, this part of survey focused on what and how the special educators perceive language development of English among autistic children.
At last, Section D examined the participants' awareness towards the possibility of parallelism between the autistic and normally-developing children. This section basically consisted of only two open-ended questions whereby the participants gave their own answers and interpretations.
3.3.2 Personal interview design. The personal interviews were conducted after the collection of the survey questionnaires. The interviews were part of a triangulation methodology that serves the purpose of cross-validation. Thus, the interviews will qualitatively substantiate the information obtained from the survey questionnaires. During the interviews, participants were asked questions that were more exhibit and narrow down to the three main research questions. The following are the 4 interview questions asked:
What aspects would you consider when you write the syllabus for the children?
How often do you assess the children's educational progress?
Do you believe inclusive programmes or schools can be of help to improve the children's educational progress?
Throughout your years of teaching, have you encountered children with autism going to normal schools for lessons?
3.4 Procedure and Time Frame
The duration of the entire research was approximately one month and the research will be carried out in the special education schools in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh, Malaysia from September 2012 to October 2012. Prior to the information collection, a list of special education schools was created by the researcher to identify the schools that used English as the medium of language; separating them from the other special education schools which used Mandarin or Bahasa Melayu as the medium of instruction. Before the interviews were conducted, the schools and learning centres were contacted to identify the language used to teach children with autism.
The particular sets of survey questionnaires were gathered on October 2012 from the targeted participants of the various special education schools. The researcher disseminated the survey questionnaire forms to the intended participants by visiting the special education schools in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh. The participants were asked to fill up the survey questionnaire regarding their attitudes, perceptions and awareness towards language development of English among the autistic children.
The survey questionnaire was designed with the consideration of Malaysian special educators and special education schools. This research study ought to be taken in account that it is in the exploratory stage where a simple-structured design and statistical procedures were used. Complex and sophisticated computer programmes and procedures should be used in the future to explore in a more detailed research.
3.5 Analysis Plan
3.5.1 General analysis plan. This research's general analysis plan is made of up two methods, which are quantitative research method and qualitative research method. The quantitative method was done and completed using Microsoft Excel software programme. The data will be tabulated through the software programme with significant and meaningful statistical data generated at the end of the procedure as well as having to analyze the participants' replies and responses using descriptive statistics analysis.
The frequencies of the participants' responses retrieved from the questions in the survey questionnaire associated with the participants' behavioural characteristics and the language development of English among children with autism were converted into percentages and were tabulated into bar graphs and pie charts. Through a structured and orderly manner of analysis, these numerical data and information represented the responses to each of the research questions.
The interview responses, on the other hand, were qualitatively analyzed to enrich and complement the numerical data collected from the survey questionnaire. The responses from the interviews are being corresponded to the relative questions in the survey questionnaire for cross-validation and follow-up purposes. Fundamentally, illustrative quotations and responses from each interview question were used to support and reinforce the findings of the research.
3.5.2 In-depth analysis plan. Each of the research questions is basically being analyzed as accordance to the general analysis plan in order to have the research carried out. The combination of all three analyses for the research questions were put together to form the in-depth analysis plan.
First, research question is none other than: What are the attitudes of the special educators towards the current syllabus for children with learning disabilities? In order to answer this research question, the interdependency of Question 1 to Question 15 - Section B in the survey questionnaire, is analyzed. The frequencies of these responses were then tabulated into the different bar graphs. Responses from the interviews were used to strengthen the findings of this research question.
The second research question is: What are the special educators' perceptions towards language development pattern of autistics in terms of learning English? The correlation of Question 16 to Question 24 - Section C in the survey questionnaire, is investigated. Likewise, the frequencies of the responses are tabulated into the various bar graphs. Answers from the interviews were used to support the findings of the research question.
Lastly, the third research question: Are the special educators aware that there is a possibility of parallelism in terms of language development pattern between autistic and normal-developing children? The research question epitomizes the entire objective of the research. For this particular research question, Question 25 and Question 26 - Section D in the survey questionnaire were evaluated.
3.6 Validity and Reliability
The instruments used in the research study achieved high degrees of validity in the view of the fact that they were criterion based and content related. The survey questionnaire was designed with four sections, which three of them were all linked to have the three research questions answered. The survey questionnaire included what was required of that in need to be measured in the research study. The instruments used were criterion based because they fulfilled criterion that were predictive and concurrent. The research study was mainly to explore the behavioural characteristics of Malaysia special educators in regards to children with autism. The survey questionnaires were given to the special educators who have experience in teaching children with learning disabilities and the personal interviews were conducted with the principal or coordinator of the special education schools. The findings from the research were predictive because all the participants were teachers in special education schools with experience.
The methodology used also achieved an undeniable level of reliability as it has a consistency of measuring the question items. The findings of the research study were based primarily on survey questionnaires and personal interviews conducted on special educators from Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh. It is considered as a reliable research conducted because of the controlled settings. There were minimal personal judgement and bias towards the field of study.
There were few assumptions made by the researcher of this research study before the analysis of the findings. As stated in Chapter 2, most of the researches conducted were carried out all over the world. Hence, the researcher assumed that:
The participants represent the whole population of Malaysia.
The participants answered the survey truthfully.
The interviewees respond with the questions without personal judgement and biasness.
The objective of this chapter is to provide the readers a clear and concise depiction of how the findings were collected and analyzed in fulfilling the research purpose. Following the next two chapters of the research, the findings and analysis of the research will be provided and will bring to completion the research with further discussion and conclusion to the study.
FINDINGS AND ANALYSIS
This chapter presents the findings obtained from the survey questionnaires and are analyzed and exhibited in details. Demographic information of the participants is included in the analysis to give a clearer picture on the participants' background; thus, the first part of this chapter described the personal details such as age, gender, special qualifications, etc. The second part of this chapter shows the findings in relations to the participants' attitudes towards the current teaching syllabus in Malaysia; which, in fact will answer the first research question of this research. The third part of this chapter seeks to find out the participants' perceptions towards the language development specifically in English among the autistic children as set forth in the second research question. The analysis as for the last part of the chapter answers the third research question of the awareness of the special educators towards the possibility of parallelism among the autistic children in terms of English.
4.1 Frequency Distribution
Demographic information is being used to segregate a targeted audience into the various groups of race, gender, age, religion and other more categories. This section comprises of the gender, age, marital status, race and employment status of the participants that were deem of utmost importance that shaped the paradigms of their thinking.
4.1.1 Frequency distribution of gender. Findings of the survey questionnaires had shown that all 16 of the participants are female; thus the females constituted a full 100%.
Figure 1: Gender of participants
4.1.2 Frequency distribution of age. All participants' age is between the range of 29 years old and below and above 50 years old. Findings had shown that seven (43.75%) out of 16 participants are below 29 years of age. Four participants (25.00%) are aged between 30 to 34 years old; and there is one participant (6.25%) who is of between 35 to 39 years of age. There are two participants (12.50%) who are aged between 40 to 44 years old; however, there is no one from the participants that are of age between 45 to 49 years old. The last two remaining participants (12.50%) are aged 50 years old and above.
Figure 2: Age of participants
4.1.3 Frequency distribution of marital status. Of the 16 targeted participants from the various special education schools; 10 of them are singles, thus, making them constituted a 62.50% of a hundred. The other six participants whom are married made up the other 37.50%.
Figure 3: Marital status of participants
4.1.4 Frequency distribution of race. Out of the 16 targeted participants, nine participants (56.25%) are Chinese. Participants that are of Malay and Indian made up 18.75% with three participants from each race respectively. There is one participant, a Pakistani; constituted a percentage of 6.25% in the findings.
Figure 4: Race of participants
4.1.5 Frequency distribution of employment status. Findings of the survey questionnaires shown that out of the 16 participants, 15 of them are full time educators; thus, making up 93.75% of the frequency. Only one of the participant is a part time educator, in which constituted 6.25% out of a hundred percent.
Figure 5: Employment status of participants
4.2 Attitude towards the Current Teaching Syllabus
In this section of the survey questionnaire, the participants were assessed through a series of questions which comprised of yes-no questions and those of contingency. Basically, the participants were asked about their attitudes in regarding to the syllabus that they are currently using to educate the children with autism. Questions in the form of a 5-point Likert scale were designed to determine the attitude of the special educators towards the current teaching syllabus, autistic children as well as the children's parents.
The first question asked to the participants is whether they are aware of the fixed syllabus or guidelines provided by the Ministry of Education. The findings of this question showed that 12 participants out of the 16 responded that they are aware of the syllabus or guidelines given by the Ministry of Education; in which these 12 participants made up the 75.00% of the whole. The other four participants who constituted the other 25.00% are unaware of the fixed syllabus provided by MOE.
Figure 6: Awareness of fixed syllabus by MOE
The second question examines whether the special education schools or learning centres do provide the syllabus for teaching the autistic children. This particular question analyzed the special educators whether they know the existence of teaching syllabus provided by the respective special education schools. A total of 13 participants (81.25%) out of the 16, responded that the special education schools that they are currently attached to do provide syllabus for teaching the children with autism. The other three participants (18.75%) acknowledged that they did not know of the syllabus provided.
Figure 7: Syllabus provided by schools for teaching
The next question examined if the special educators use a standard or homogenous syllabus every year when educating the children with autism. The results shown eight participants (50.00%) responded that they do use a standardized syllabus when they teach. The other eight participants (50.00%) responded with a 'no'.
Figure 8: Usage of standardized syllabus when teaching
The following question is an open-ended contingency question of Question 3; in which the eight special educators (50.00%) state the reason they do not use a standardized or fixed syllabus when teaching children with autism. Though children with autism have language disabilities; however, due to the fact that autistic children differ tremendously in their own skill levels, the educational options or teaching materials vary as well (Friend, 2011). Thus, the major concern of these eight special educators is that children with autism have their own specific needs when it comes to education and learning. The special educators will plan the syllabus according to the needs of the child as every child has different patterns and levels of learning. The planning and designing of syllabus is subjected to the individual's developmental milestone and ability.
The fifth question examined the participants' point of views on whether the current teaching syllabus used needs any improvements. Eight participants (50.00%) out of 16 responded stating that there ought to be improvisation done in terms of the current teaching syllabus. One of the most vital reasons as to why the teaching syllabus needs improvement is because the syllabus planned should be flexible to cater the different cognitive development of the autistic children. One of the responses given by the participants on the improvising of syllabus is that there is a need to integrate the special with the normal in terms of education. Some participants replied that the high functioning ones need more hands-on lessons to grasp more knowledge. The other eight participants (50.00%) responded that there is no need for the improvising of the current syllabus used. The current syllabus given has been beneficial and that the children with autism are able to understand better if the teachings are to be in a fixed way. Some autistic children need a more standardized teaching method in order to understand and grasp hold of the teachings. One of the responses given is that if there were to be any changes made, it would just be a minor one.
Figure 9: Improvements needed for syllabus used
Next, the sixth question posed to the participants is their opinions on the feasibility of the current teaching syllabus that caters to the children's needs. Based on the findings of the survey questionnaires, all 16 participants (100.00%) responded that the current teaching syllabus used is feasible to cater to the children's needs.
The last yes-no question for this section is to explore whether all the children with autism are being exposed to the same curriculum provided by the special education schools. Out of the 16 participants, six participants (37.50%) agreed that the all children with autism in their respective schools are being exposed to the same curriculum used. The majority of the participants; which are the remaining 10 of the participants (62.50%) responded that all the children are not exposed to the same curriculum used in their respective schools.
Figure 10: Exposure of same curriculum
Question 8 to Question 15 of Section B in the survey questionnaire are designed using a 5-point Likert scale to determine the participants' attitudes towards the current teaching syllabus, the students as well as the parents. The participants were supposed to rate the series of questions based on the 5-point Likert scaling; in which '5 = Strongly Agree', '4 = Agree', '3 = Neutral', '2 = Disagree' and lastly '1 = Strongly Disagree'. Table 1 shows the frequency of the responds by the participants based on the Likert scale survey design.
Frequency and percentage of the participants' responds
The corresponding figure shows the distributions of the responds given by the participants.
Figure 11: Attitudes on syllabus, students and parents
4.3 Perception towards Language Development of Autistics
As for this section of the survey questionnaire, the participants were again assessed through a series of questions comprising of also yes-no and contingency questions. There will also be questions designed through the Likert scale. Basically, the participants were analyzed based on their personal perceptions with regards to the language development of autistic children, specifically the acquisition of the English language.
Question 16 was asked to find out the participants' insights in regards to the chances of autistic children to be able to learn more if the scope of study increases. The findings of this question showed that 10 participants (62.50%) out of 16 perceive that children with autism are able to learn more knowledge if the scope of study increases. The remaining six participants (37.50%) acknowledged that even if the scope of study increases, autistic children will not be able to have a wider prospect of education.
Figure 12: Ability of autistics if scope of study increases
Question 17 is an open-ended contingency question, in which the six participants will have to answer this question due to the previous respond given was a 'no'. These participants ought to provide the reasoning on why they do not agree on the statement. Each and every individual is different in terms of learning skills; thus even if the scope of study expanded, the low-functioning autistic children might not be able to follow the teachings. Some responds given by participants are that autistic children will be able to revise more with the same constant teaching materials in order to have a better understanding. No matter how well-planned the syllabus or teaching materials is; it is all depends on each of the autistic child.
Next, Question 18 examined the participants' observations whether the current teaching syllabus used had made a tremendous improvement and impact in the children's language development. 11 participants (68.75%) out of 16 expressed their opinions that the current teaching syllabus has made tremendous improvement in the children's language development. One of the most profound responses is that the participants themselves actually see the improvements by the children. Through a lot of visual aids and support, the children had expanded their receptive and expressive language. On the other hand, five participants (31.25%) opposed that current teaching brought improvements among the autistic children, especially in terms of language development. Some autistic children are the low-functioning ones; thus, they are not communicating verbally and as a result, the participants find it difficult to assess the improvement level in terms of language.
Figure 13: Improvement in children's language development
Question 19 is the last yes-no question for Section C in the survey questionnaire. The participants were expected to respond based on their own judgement on whether the children's needs being met in terms of language acquisition. Among the 16 participants, 12 of the participants (75.00%) stated that the needs of the autistic children in their respective special education schools had been met. However, four participants (25.00%) revealed that the children's needs are not being met in terms in acquiring English language.
Figure 14: Distributions on meeting the children's needs
Question 20 to Question 24 of Section C in the survey questionnaire were designed using a 5-point Likert scale to determine the participants' perceptions and opinions towards the language development of the