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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Autism Study Puts Special Education in Spotlight

CSESA staff
One of the largest randomized controlled trial studies in education that has ever been conducted is currently taking place, and members of the COE faculty are at the helm.

The Department of Special Education’s Dr. Laura J. Hall and Dr. Bonnie Kraemer are serving as Site Co-Principal Investigators for a study that evaluates a multi-component educational intervention aimed to prepare students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for better post school outcomes. The Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences-awarded project entitled the Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism is led by University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill researchers Drs. Kara Hume and Sam Odom.  

The first two years of the five-year project were focused on developing and evaluating the curriculum accomplished by national leaders in the content for each component. Three sites (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, University of Wisconsin-Madison , and San Diego State University) are currently completing the first of the three year randomized controlled trial study of 60 high schools with approximately 10 students with ASD in each high school.

The project is being held two years after data emerged stating that just 21 percent of people with ASD aged 21-25 years old are able to find full-time employment. The U.S. is expected to see a 78 percent increase in demand for adult services in the next six years for those with ASD, so project leaders are focused on finding strategies to help prepare students with ASD for life after high school.

“This project will inform the entire nation on effective high school practices for students with autism,” Hall stated on the goal of the project. The study was a featured project at the recent Council for Exceptional Children Conference in San Diego.

Two cohorts of 10 schools each are recruited from each of the sites for the two year project. Five of the schools are given the four intervention components addressing social competence, reading comprehension, independence, and behavior and transition. The SDSU Team provides the material and coaching to the school personnel. However, it is the school staff that are learning to implement the strategies so that they can use those found to be effective well into the future . 

“Teachers like the curriculum,” Hall said on teacher feedback of the project. “And are already reporting that the students are achieving beyond their expectations.”

The study thus far has been successful in using the talents of COE students and providing them the opportunity to participate in research conducted in schools. The main CSESA team is comprised of two graduates of the M.A. Degree in Special Education/Autism Specialization, Shayla Green and Ana Duenas, current lecturer in the Department Chris Brum.

School Psychology candidates have assessed the students with ASD for baseline treatment and will complete post-year one and two assessments.  Candidates and graduates from the Marriage and Family Therapy program will co-facilitate the ten groups for families to be conducted over the next two years.

The CSESA team has been working with 96 students with ASD and 52 team members of school staff from cohort one. These numbers are likely to double with the addition of cohort two. After the next two years of the project the study will have gathered data to inform the nation as to how educators can better prepare students with ASD for life after high school, including the possibility of higher education.

With nearly 80 percent of people with ASD living at home after high school graduation, the time has never been more critical to help both students and teachers identify strategies that facilitate the best outcomes for those living with a disorder that affects 1 in 66 children nationwide.