Date of Conferral







Donna Russell


The number of children in U.S. schools diagnosed with autism and intellectual disabilities disorders is increasing and they face low levels of employment after graduation. Without a viable education, including work skills training, these students cannot be successful citizens. The purpose of this generic qualitative study was to understand the experiences and perceptions of educators implementing an innovative transitional secondary education program designed to prepare students who have intellectual disabilities and autism to be successful in college or the workplace. The conceptual framework for this study included the theory of self-efficacy, sociocultural learning theory, differentiated instruction, and experiential learning theory. The research questions for this study were designed to understand the experiences and perceptions of educators implementing an innovative transitional educational program for intellectually disabled and autistic middle and high school students. The participants were administrators, teachers and paraprofessionals at a transitional secondary education program. The participants were interviewed, and program documents were collected. The data was analyzed using thematic inductive analysis. The study identified four main themes including (a) the importance of understanding the teachers’ beliefs and self-efficacy; (b) the significance of experiential, individualized learning; (c) the need to overtly teach social skills to these learners; (d) and the use of differentiated instructional methods to teach real-world skills. The overall conclusion was that the tiered instructional model to classify autistic and intellectually disabled students influenced all teachers’ perceptions and experiences. The implication for social change is to develop new models for education for the increasing numbers of special needs learners in U.S. schools to increase their ability to work and be successful after graduation.