With the increased prevalence of students qualifying for services within Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) programs (Odom, Cox and Brock, 2013), it is imperative that the field comes to better understand how successful programs can be replicated at scale. The implementation of effective instructional programs for students with ASD across school systems on a large scale is a difficult task. School systems have tried to replicate successful programs for diverse learners but have been largely unable to do so. For students with disabilities, who perform poorly compared to their peers without disabilities (Odom et al., 2013), the need to replicate successful programs is even more pressing. This need is most pressing for students in programs for ASD whose educational outcomes lag behind those of students in programs designed for all other exceptionality categories (Cook & Cook, 2013). The quality with which a program is designed matters little if the fidelity with which that program is implemented is lacking. For students with disabilities who perform poorly compared to their peers without disabilities (Odom et al., 2013), the need to replicate successful programs is even more pressing. The school leader plays an important role in the development, implementation, and maintenance of effective programs for students with ASD. The purpose of this study was to document the lived experiences of school leaders who have developed and/or managed successful programs for students with ASD within their school sites. It is clear that leadership matters in school and, therefore, influences program quality (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Reeves, 2006; Waters, Marzano, & McNulty, 2003). School and system change is difficult work, prone to being unsuccessful—but improvement is possible and sustainable (Fullan, 2007). The research questions for this study were: 1. What are the characteristics of a school administrator who oversees effective self-contained classroom(s) for students with ASD? 2. What are the lived experiences of principals who have led teachers to implement effective classrooms for students with ASD across their school setting? 3. What rewards and challenges are associated with being a school administrator with an effective exceptional education program for students with ASD? In sum, these principal participants showed an intense interest in improving support services for students with ASD. They emphasized their vision that, if given the proper support and environment, all students can succeed. The principals were diligent in supporting that vision themselves and in making connections that could help reinforce that vision. A tremendous part of supporting that vision was ensuring that staff has the appropriate skills to work effectively with students with ASD. Once success was realized in these programs, it was reinforced by the success of the students and the emotional compensation received from parents. However, leading such programs is not without its challenges. Overall, though, all of these principals were clear about setting forth a path where the schools they were leading would do what is necessary to help their students with ASD be successful.


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Graduation Date





Martin, Suzanne


Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


College of Education and Human Performance


Teaching, Learning and Leadership

Degree Program










Release Date

August 2016

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)