FPG's Autism Team Takes Effective Practices Around the World

Date Published: 04/05/2018

a groundbreaking report, globally popular training, and a new project on behalf of people with autism

The UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) has launched the National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice, a new project to update FPG's 2014 report on evidence-based practices for children and youth with autism. 

FPG advanced research scientist Kara Hume, who directs the new National Clearinghouse, said her team will systematically review new studies. “We’ll also establish a system of review that will allow for annual updates,” Hume said.

FPG scientists spearheaded the last major review of research in the field by screening 29,000 articles about autism, locating the soundest studies on interventions for children from birth to age 22. The FPG team then synthesized the research into 27 evidence-based practices.

FPG senior research scientist Sam Odom, who co-headed the 2014 review, said that more children than ever were being diagnosed with autism.

“We’re catching them earlier, with better tools,” explained Odom. “And these children need the right services.”

Autism incurs an additional average lifetime cost of $1.4-$2.4 million per diagnosis, depending on the level of severity. However, research suggests early diagnosis and effective interventions can reduce that cost by two-thirds.

The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder (NPDC) published the FPG team’s report, and families and practitioners have downloaded it several thousand times. The report also helped guide North Carolina legislators who were drafting a new law to extend health care insurance to cover proven practices for use with people with autism. 

Hume said this represents only part of the report’s impact on the field.

“It has affected practice tremendously, especially through FPG’s free online instruction,” she explained.

Based on the report’s findings, FPG created Autism Focused Intervention Resources and Modules (AFIRM)—user-friendly training for each evidence-based practice—and the AFIRM instruction netted its 4,000,000th page view earlier this year. According to Hume, families and teachers from over 140 countries around the globe have accessed the AFIRM training, and recently this training began offering CEUs.

Since FPG’s 2014 report, the field has generated 29,000 more articles on autism. Hume said that not only would the new National Clearinghouse develop necessary structures to provide ongoing updates of the most reliable evidence, but she and her team plan to further broaden the range of people with autism who can benefit from the latest science.

“As a field, we know very little about what interventions work best for older people with autism,” she said. “We’re hoping to identify funders to partner with us to expand our review in order to include research focusing on adults.” 

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