Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Mary Lou Morton


Deficits in communication affect individuals with autism regarding the ability to access a free and appropriate education as well as quality of life. This research study explored the effects of a service-learning project on acquisition of social skills and reduction of problem behaviors for students who have autism. The conceptual framework for this study was based on Maslow's theory of motivation and Erickson's 8 stages of personality development. A mixed-methods design with sequential transformative strategy was used to collect quantitative data from 5 elementary students who have autism during involvement in service learning; the Social Skills Improvement System was used and was analyzed using a t test. Qualitative data derived from field notes were coded and thematically analyzed. Although the differences were not statistically significant, the social skills did improve and the problem behaviors did decline. Qualitative data also supported the supposition that a positive change may have occurred and those students' basic needs were being met through leadership opportunities. Although the results of this study appear promising, the size of the study limits generalization and further research is needed. Service learning may be an effective intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) allowing positive social change. Service learning may allow individuals with ASD to have their basic needs met; increase positive social interactions with others; help decrease unexpected behavior; and reduce stress and depression for themselves, their family members, and their educators.