DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE - CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED MEDICAL RESEARCH PROGRAMS

School-Based Intervention Programs for Children with ASD

Posted January 18, 2023

Dr. Christopher Lopata, Dr. Marcus L. Thomeer, Dr. Jonathan D. Rodgers, and Dr. James P. Donnelly, Canisius College, Institute for Autism Research

In 2009, Canisius College psychology professors Christopher Lopata and Marcus Thomeer founded the Institute for Autism Research (IAR), which is dedicated to understanding autism and enhancing the lives of those affected and their families. The research done at the IAR aims to address critical questions involving causes, development, assessment, clinical treatment, and education. The Autism Research Program (ARP) is proud to have funded two awards to support the IAR’s work.

The first award, funded in fiscal year 2014 (FY14), was a clinical trial of a comprehensive treatment for children with high-functioning ASD. This trial tested the efficacy of an outpatient comprehensive psychosocial treatment called MAXout on the ASD symptoms and social communicative functioning of 7- to 12-year-olds with high-functioning ASD (HFASD). This program took place over 18 weeks, with twice weekly group treatment sessions using direct instruction, modeling, roleplay, performance feedback, and transfer of learning to foster skills acquisition. The efficacy of the treatment was assessed immediately following the 18-week period, and then again 4-6 weeks post-treatment. Overall, the team observed significant improvements in social-cognitive skills, social skills/behaviors, ASD symptoms, and problem behaviors of children with HFASD.

As a follow-on and for further development of these intervention programs, the ARP again funded Dr. Lopata and the IAR team with an FY21 award. This new study is a feasibility and efficacy treatment trial of an afterschool social intervention delivered by paraprofessionals in a school setting for children with HFASD. This study will train paraprofessionals in implementing the intervention to at least a 90% fidelity level, after which it will be delivered to elementary-aged children as part of the existing afterschool program already in place. This will occur 4 days a week over an 8-week period in a highly structured setting and will include social skills groups, social recreational groups, and a reinforcement system. Outcomes will be assessed prior to and following the 8-week period and again after a 3-month follow-up period to assess maintenance of any improvements.

Both projects will impact the lives of children with HFASD by improving social functioning and ASD symptoms. These interventions address the core impairments that affect immediate- and long-term outcomes. For example, improving the social communication skills and ASD symptoms of children with HFASD may impact future adaptive functioning, yielding greater successes for career and vocational development programs. In this way, the studies conducted at the IAR will impact the children’s current social conditions, and the ongoing benefits (e.g., social, adaptive, vocational, independence) may be realized into adulthood. These studies also hold promise to improve the therapeutic and clinical skills of paraprofessionals.

Dr. James P Donnelly, Dr. Marcus L Thomeer, Dr. Christopher Lopata, and Dr. Jonathan D Rodgers Left to Right: Dr. James P. Donnelly, Dr. Marcus L. Thomeer, Dr. Christopher Lopata, and Dr. Jonathan D. Rodgers
(Photo Provided)

Links:

Public and Technical Abstracts: Clinical Trial of a Comprehensive Treatment for High-Functioning Children with ASD

Public and Technical Abstracts: Feasibility and Initial Efficacy of an After-School Social Intervention Delivered by Paraprofessionals in School Settings for Children with ASD

For Kids with Autism, a Different Way of Learning - Buffalo News



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