School of Education


Doctor of Education (EdD)


Gail Collins


Autism, Communication, Perceptions, Phenomenology, Preschool


Curriculum and Instruction | Curriculum and Social Inquiry | Disability and Equity in Education | Education | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Educational Methods | Educational Psychology


The purpose of this transcendental, phenomenological study was to explore experiences of using a total communication system with preschoolers diagnosed with autism as explained by their parents and teachers. The research focused on the experience specifically relating to functional communication and social interactions. Determining resources that parents and teachers need that may have made the employment of the strategies more successful, was of importance to this study in order to determine implications, or future needed research. The participants in this study, determined by purposive sampling, included parents, teachers, paraprofessionals, and speech therapist located in an elementary school setting. The study took place in a rural area of North Georgia. This study was grounded in B. F. Skinner’s (1938) operant conditioning, and Verbal Behavior (1957), Bandura’s (1977) social learning, and Vygotsky’s (1935) social development. Data collection included a home questionnaire, individual parent interviews, and teacher focus groups. I analyzed the data using Moustakas’ (1994) phenomenological model leading to the essence of the shared experience. First, it was determined that total communication had a positive influence on the functional communication skills of preschoolers with autism. Specifically, participants reported increases in joint attentions, following directions, and communicative attempts. Secondly, participants expressed an increase in social skills, such as play with toys, interactions with peers an adults and participation in learning activities. Finally, participants recommended additional training and materials in order to feel more successful.