Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work

Document Type



As diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) continue to climb, the need for knowledgeable and competent professionals is critical. Research has shown that child symptoms and behavior are related to parent stress and mental health and that this relationship is bidirectional, suggesting the need for the use of a family-centered care model (FCC) that addresses both child and parent needs. While social workers are well-prepared to provide FCC to persons with ASD and their families, few social workers enter the field of developmental disabilities. Professionals more involved in the ASD field, such as special educators, often are equipped to work with persons with ASD, but not necessarily their families. Although FCC is used widely in the field of early intervention, it is not consistently used with older children, adolescents, and young adults with ASD, despite families’ continued need for FCC. As posited in Social Cognitive Career Theory, self-efficacy is a salient concept for understanding the career interests, choices, and practice behaviors of pre-professional students. Thus, this cross-sectional, correlational study examined predictors of graduate social work and special education students’ self-efficacy for providing FCC to persons with ASD and their families. The presented study provided a comprehensive description of students’ demographics, educational background characteristics, knowledge about ASD, attitudes toward working with persons with ASD, contact with persons with ASD, training in the areas of ASD and FCC, and self-efficacy for professional practice. Differences between social work and special education students on measures of these key variables were assessed. A difference in students’ self-efficacy for providing FCC to young children with ASD as compared to emerging adults with ASD was also explored. The current study also examined interrelationships among major variables of interest and identified empirically relevant correlates of the dependent variable. Ordinary least squares multiple regression analyses yielded a set of predictors (attitudes, self-directed learning, and self-efficacy for professional practice) that explained 38% of the variance in self-efficacy for providing FCC to persons with ASD and their families. Implications for social work practice, education, and research are discussed.



Committee Chair

Lemieux, Catherine M.