Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2023

Primary Advisor

Leslie Davidson, PhD, OT/L, FAOTA


Autism Spectrum Disorders; Children; Virtual Education; COVID-19 Pandemic



Background: The COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread school closures in the Washington DC metropolitan region, necessitating a shift from traditional in-person education to virtual platforms. The context was significantly influenced by the evolving pandemic and its impact on the region's COVID-19 positive rates, with the Washington DC region facing some of the highest positive rates in 2020. These escalating positive rates posed substantial challenges to planning and implementing in-person learning, primarily driven by concerns for public health and safety. The region's persistently low percentages of in-person learning made it one of the worst in the country regarding the provision of in-person instruction (Burbio, 2023). The challenges and uncertainties related to school closures, phased reopening, and hybrid learning formats significantly impacted children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), who rely on specialized educational interventions outlined in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Caregivers and education providers had to adapt their strategies for implementing educational interventions using technology, yet evidence-informed guidance in implementation practices in virtual education for children with ASD is lacking.

Objective: This study aims to describe contextual complexities surrounding the experiences of caregivers and education providers implementing virtual education for children with ASD in the Washington DC metropolitan region during the COVID-19 pandemic. It explores factors influencing implementation experiences related to the development and implementation of educational interventions, collaboration among IEP team members, impact of educational interventions on IEP goal achievement, and changes in roles and resources during the pandemic.

Methods: A multi-case study design was conducted using qualitative methods. A purposive selection process identified twenty-five participants, comprised of sixteen caregivers and nine education providers. Each participant engaged in an one-hour virtual interview guided by the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR) featuring open-ended questions. Memos captured significant participant comments, and interviews were transcribed, reviewed for accuracy, and analyzed thematically using NVivo.

Results: Thematic data analysis identified thirty-four initial codes grouped into eight subthemes, revealing three overarching themes. Participants encountered significant challenges in transitioning to virtual education, fostering team collaboration, and implementing virtual education effectively. Study findings highlight the critical need for development of: needs assessments, guidelines, and training. This research culminated in the creation of the Model of Translation and Implementation of Virtual Education for children with ASD (MOTIVE-ASD), standing as a robust call to action and a guide for the development of Standards for Virtual Implementation tailored specifically for virtual education programs.

Conclusion: This study provides valuable insights into the development and implementation of virtual education, team collaboration dynamics, IEP goal achievement, and changes in roles and resources during the pandemic. The findings are instrumental for guiding the development of tailored virtual education programs for enhancing the virtual education experience. As virtual education continues to evolve, interested-parties will be equipped with knowledge and resources to navigate educational implementation remotely for children with ASD, in the face of future natural or public health disasters.


©2023 by Monika Sinha-Bhamra. All rights reserved.

Open Access




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