Past Research Projects

Organization for Autism Research

Social Tools And Rules for Teens (START) Program

This grant allowed the Koegel Autism Center to examine the effectiveness of a peer-facilitated, multicomponent social skills intervention for adolescents on the autism spectrum.. Adolescents with ASD face numerous personal and contextual barriers that impede the development of core social motivation and competencies, which warrants the need for targeted intervention efforts. A randomized clinical trial was conducted with 35 adolescents to evaluate the merits of a multi-component socialization intervention that emphasizes experiential learning. This investigation evaluated the impact of the 20-week START program on the social outcomes of adolescents with ASD through the use of multiple outcome measures. Evidence of significant improvements was observed exclusively in those in program participants.  Analyses of the entire program cohort yielded significant improvements across all measures. These findings may be an important step in identifying optimal strategies to target the complex factors limiting optimal social development in ASD.

Autism Speaks

Toddler Intervention Grant using Pivotal Response Treatment with Embedded Social Reinforcement

This pilot research project evaluated the use of a motivation-based early intervention for toddlers with autism.  Young children often demonstrate strong levels of engagement, but this focus tends to be on favorite objects and activities rather than with parents and other people.  Our experimental intervention took advantage of this existing engagement by then designing social versions of these preferred activities.  These interactions were then placed within intervention designed to increase language use and parent-child connection.  24 children with autism completed the study – 12 received the new treatment, while the remaining 12 received community intervention.  After 6 months of this intervention, progress was measured using a variety of developmental tests, parent-child interaction videos, and sophisticated eye-tracking equipment to study child eye gaze patterns.

The outcome of the study revealed that children who participated in the experimental treatment experienced a decrease in observed autism symptom severity and an increase in assessed and parent-reported communication skills compared to children in the community treatment group.  They also increased in their level of social engagement during parent-child interactions.

Increasing Service Providers' Competence for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Children with ASD

As more culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) children are being diagnosed with ASD (NAEYC, 2009), there is a great need for an increase in culturally competent service providers (Delgado & Strawn, 2014; Welterlin & LaRue, 2007).  The literature suggests that service providers who share the same cultural and linguistic background as families are in a unique position to help develop goals that are more culturally meaningful for CLD children with ASD. In consideration of this philosophy, this project will match CLD service providers with children with ASD in order to incorporate culturally sensitive measures into Pivotal Response Treatment, which is an empirically validated treatment. This project will evaluate whether this will: (1) improve the children’s treatment gains, (2) improve the family and children’s overall affect, (3) improve the family’s desire to seek out services for their child, and (4) improve the family’s satisfaction with interacting with service providers.

Fostering a Positive Social Environment: Peer Mediated Social Interventions for Students with ASD

Many adolescents with ASD do not receive appropriate social intervention programs in their inclusive high schools, and instead are often bullied and teased (Humphrey & Symes, 2010; Roekel, et al., 2010; Symes & Humphrey, 2010).  Our project, therefore, aims to address the need for evidence-based peer mediated social programs for adolescents with ASD in their inclusive high school setting.  The intervention will consist of incorporating the adolescents with ASD’s preferred/specialized interests into regular recreational/social activities in schools. The goals of this project include improving the social development of adolescents with ASD, improving their overall mental health, eliminating the bullying and teasing, and creating a community within the school system that fosters a positive social environment.