Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Ruble

Second Advisor

Dr. Alicia Fedewa


Autism is one of the fastest growing educational disability groups (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, 2021). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004) ensures all students have access to a free and appropriate public education. Individualized Education Programs (IEP) have been described as central to IDEIA (2004) and are the most common service received by children with autism (Berrcera et al., 2017; Yell et al., 2003). Despite the frequent use of the IEP in service provision for students with autism, there is relatively little research on the content and quality of IEPs for students with autism. To summarize available literature and address identified gaps in the literature, a two-paper approach for the current dissertation was used. In the first study, a scoping review following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Extension for Scoping Reviews was used to summarize the available literature on IEP quality for students with autism. A total of 1,399 articles were identified from a search of 7 databases using keywords related to disability, measurement, and IEPs. Only 3 studies were identified in which IEPs of students with autism exclusively were examined with an additional 23 studies identified in which students with autism comprised part of the sample. Key findings indicated that studies primarily use non-experimental descriptive methods and relied on study-specific, researcher-developed measures in order to analyze IEP contents. IEP annual goals/objectives were the most common unit of analysis. When studies did examine content across various sections of the IEP, the content on different sections of the IEP often lacked alignment. IEP content did not consistently address students’ core needs associated with their disability. Although intervention studies lacked rigor, interventions designed to improve IEP quality were generally effective. Last, student, teacher, intervention, and school factors had inconsistent effects on IEP quality across studies.

Given the limited research identified in the scoping literature review, the second study focused on an empirical examination of teacher, parent, child, and school factors that associate with IEP quality for students with autism specifically. IEPs from 73 young students with autism (Mage = 6.3 years) were coded using the IEP quality measure for students with autism (Ruble et al., 2010). Descriptive analyses were conducted to determine strengths and weaknesses of IEPs based on federal law requirements and National Research Council (2001) best practice recommendations. Correlation analyses were conducted to identify factors that associate with IEP quality. Strengths based on federal law requirements were that a majority of IEPs described the present level of performance for specific objectives. Weaknesses were that IEPs rarely specified specially designed instruction for individual objectives. Strengths based on best practice recommendations were that a majority of IEPs incorporated goals related to communication, learning, academic, and social skills. Weaknesses related to best practice recommendations were that IEPs did not consistently describe parental concerns. There were no statistically significant correlations between IEP quality and parent, child, teacher, and school factors when using a Bonferroni corrected p-value.

Together the two studies fill gaps in the literature on IEP quality for students with autism. Study one provides up-to-date information regarding what is known about research designs, measurement approaches, and content of IEPs for students with autism. The second study added to the literature by using a previously published measure of IEP quality to understand the content of IEPs based on federal law requirements and best practice recommendations specifically for students with autism. Factors that may be associated with IEP quality were also examined. Recommendations for practitioners and researchers were provided.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)