Award Date

August 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational & Clinical Studies

First Committee Member

Kyle Higgins

Second Committee Member

Tracy Spies

Third Committee Member

Joseph Morgan

Fourth Committee Member

Randall Boone

Number of Pages



Given recent revisions to the diagnostic criteria as it pertains to students with ASD (DSM-V; APA, 2013), several studies have raised concern that future diagnosis will be limited (McPartland et al., 2012). However, prevalence rates of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have continued to rise since its release (Baio et al., 2018). Because special education referrals are subject to bias, and positively correlated with a high probably of subsequent diagnosis (Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 1981), the role of the educator warrants exploration.

This study investigated the level of training provided to pre-service and in-service general and special educators in the DSM-IV (APA, 2000) and DSM-V (APA, 2013) diagnostic criteria as it pertains to ASD. The participants in this study included in-service general educators (n= 32) and special educators (n=34) enrolled in graduate level courses at a large, urban, southwest university. The ASD-Diagnostic Criteria Questionnaire was created to assess the type and level of training received. Anecdotal data, obtained from a subset of participants (e.g., nine general educators, nine special educators), provided further insight into the mechanisms influencing questionnaire response. The quantitative and qualitative results were merged and assessed for convergence or divergence.

The results indicated that special educators reported receiving more explicit levels of pre- service and in-service training in the DSM-IV (APA, 2000) and DSM-V (APA, 2013) criteria as it pertains to ASD, as compared to their general education counterparts. However, despite reporting higher levels of training, both groups demonstrated overall low scores when means were compared to the highest possible score. Further, neither general or special educators reported any differences in training received between the DSM-IV (APA, 2000) and DSM-V (APA, 2013). Qualitative analyses confirmed these findings with both general and special educators exhibiting misconceptions pertaining to the characteristics of ASD, citing a lack of self-confidence in their ability to identify a student with ASD, and indicating the need for more explicit training in their pre-service teacher preparation programs.

These findings suggest that general and special education teacher preparation programs should assess the level of instruction, coursework, and field experiences provided to teacher candidates with regard to the education of students with disabilities, and more specifically, ASD. Further, school districts should embed training opportunities that specifically address the unique characteristics and challenges associated with children/youth with ASD. Through explicit instruction in operative diagnostic criteria, the use of biases as a framework for student referral will be limited.


Autism Spectrum Disorder; DSM-IV; DSM-V; Referral Bias; Teacher Preparation


Education | Pre-Elementary, Early Childhood, Kindergarten Teacher Education | Special Education and Teaching | Teacher Education and Professional Development

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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