Using a Virtual Reality Environment to Train Special Educators Working with Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder to Implement Discrete Trial Teaching
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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the fastest growing disability category receiving special education services in schools with a current prevalence rate of 1 in 68 children in the United States, a 30% increase since 2012. Teachers of students with ASD and other disabilities are encouraged by law to use evidence-based practices (EBPs). In order to be effective, special educators must be knowledgeable about and able to implement EBPs that address disability-specific needs so they can provide intensive, explicit instruction within the broader general education curriculum. Both the National Professional Development Center on ASD and the National Autism Center identified Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) as an EBP for students with ASD. DTT uses small repetitive steps to teach concepts in a planned, controlled, systematic one-to-one format where educators pair positive reinforcement with clear contingencies and repetition to teach a variety of new skills. Computer-simulated environments offer one method of training teachers in the area of EBPs without practicing on actual students. The purpose of this investigation was to determine the effects of a didactic training alone (simulating a traditional professional development), and the effects of adding coaching in a virtual reality environment (i.e., TLE TeachLivE™), on special educators’ implementation fidelity with DTT in their classrooms with students with ASD. Five in-service special educators who had previous DTT training but were still not implementing the EBP with fidelity participated in the study. Results suggest the didactic training alone was not sufficient to bring special educators to fidelity of implementation with DTT but after one one-hour session in TLE TeachLivE™, participants were able to implement DTT with fidelity in their own classrooms. Special educators maintained their fidelity of implementation up to eight weeks after the conclusion of the intervention. Therefore, coaching in a virtual reality environment following a didactic training was effective in training special educators to implement an EBP with high levels of fidelity in their own classrooms with students with ASD, demonstrating skill transferability and retention.