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Neurodivergence in Early Childhood: Deriving a Dual-Factor Model of Educational Well-Being Through a Design-Based Research Pilot Program Open Access

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There is a distinct need to understand subjective well-being for neurodivergent students in early childhood. Review of previous literature suggests the positive influence of subjective well-being in mitigating psychological distress; however, young children have been excluded from these investigations. Therefore, this study employed an advanced mixed methods research design, through which a convergent core was embedded within an overarching quasi-experimental framework to analyze three key outcomes in early childhood education: (a) self-identified conceptualizations of student covitality, (b) self-evaluated levels of student covitality, and (c) teacher-rated levels of executive dysfunction.All students actively enrolled in a local partner school serving pre-Kindergarten to 2nd grade (N = 45) participated in qualitative and quantitative evaluations of covitality. Qualitative data were collected through semi-structured focus groups, and quantitative data were collected through student ratings on the Social-Emotional Health Survey-Primary (Furlong, You, Renshaw, O’Malley, & Rebelez, 2013). Qualitative findings suggested students conceptualize covitality as positive school experiences along a developmental trajectory across five themes—play activities, classroom instruction, school environmental factors, interpersonal relationships, and special programs. Quantitative results determined excellent internal reliability of the covitality scale for early elementary 1st- and 2nd-grade students (Cronbach's alpha = .908).Two classrooms were randomly assigned to the waitlist control (n = 14) or intervention (n = 10) condition—1st- and 2nd-grade, respectively. A novel positive psychology intervention was designed and tested to promote covitality. Implementation of strategically targeted practices supported the underlying factors of gratitude, zest, optimism, and persistence.Additional quantitative data were collected through teacher ratings of cognition on the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function, Second Edition (Gioia, Isquith, Guy, & Kenworthy, 2016). Intervention effects indicated a statistically significant interaction for improved executive functioning relative to the waitlist control group (p = .011). Integration of qualitative and quantitative results produced preliminary evidence of categorical advancement in a dual-factor clinical classification system and distinctions in varied and nuanced conceptualizations of well-being constructs over time. Synthesis of qualitative, quantitative, and integrated findings highlighted the value of design-based research generally, and the Student Strengths Safari© program, specifically, to establish a dual-factor model of educational well-being (EdWB) for optimal student development.

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