Autism & Developmental Disabilities

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teacher showing happy and sad faces to student with autism

Supporting individuals with developmental disabilities such as autism, as well as their caregivers and service providers, is central to the work of FPG. Understanding developmental trajectories and the impact of a developmental disability on the individual, family, and broader community informs both theory and practice. High-quality intervention across the age range can ensure that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families fully participate in their community in ways that are meaningful to them. FPG investigators have identified central features of high-quality intervention, such as family-focused programming, early childhood inclusion, and the use of identified evidence-based practices. They lead the field in translating scientific knowledge into practical information for teachers and service providers, and actively join their colleagues from implementation science in promoting adoption and use of effective intervention practices in schools, homes, and community settings.

Featured Resource

More Americans died of gun-related violence in 2021 than any other year on record, and thus, sadly, conversations about gun violence with autistic youth are likely necessary. The Autism Focused Intervention Resources & Modules project has released a Timely Toolkit to help guide these conversations.

Featured Project

The Child Find ACCESS project is a model demonstration to improve services and results for infants, toddlers, and children with disabilities. The project is designed to address ongoing challenges experienced by states in identifying infants and toddlers needing early intervention services, which has resulted in persistent racial inequities and disparities in identification rates.

Featured Person

While the research portfolio of UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute Faculty Fellow Brianne Tomaszewski, PhD, includes a wide range of projects, a focus on supporting the autonomy of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) is central to all her work.

Current Projects

The dual increases in the prevalence of students with autism needing special education services and the number of paraeducators providing instruction in special education had created a need for preparing paraeducators to use evidence-based practices (EBPs) with autistic students in educational settings. The AFIRM for Paraeducators (AFP) program is a professional development program for paraeducators to be delivered by special education teachers in authentic educational settings. The purpose of this project is to examine the promise of the AFP program, through a pilot randomized control trial (RCT), for increasing paraeducators use of EBP with high fidelity of implementation and resultant goal attainment by autistic students receiving instruction.
This model demonstration seeks to increase family uptake of developmental screenings and service enrollment of traditionally underserved populations by centering family and cultural voice throughout the implementation process.
This study will iteratively develop and test an adapted professional development model to be used with the Advancing Social-communication And Play intervention.
The National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice (NCAEP) is conducting a systematic review of the current intervention literature targeting individuals on the autism spectrum. NCAEP is a continuation of the evidence review that was completed by the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Black families of children with disabilities face additional stress and difficulties because of their multiple marginalized statuses, particularly within the intersection between racism and ableism. These parents and caregivers may be tasked with teaching and conveying messages to their children about how to navigate social settings, like school, as a Black child with a disability. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2018), among students ages 3 through 21 served in special education, less than one-fifth are Black/African American (17.7 percent), but Black/African American students with disabilities account for more than one third (36.6 percent) of individuals who experienced disciplinary removal. Ethnic-racial socialization (ERS) practices have been found to mitigate the effects of such discrimination on children’s development. They are defined as verbal and nonverbal racial communication between families of color and their children about cultural heritage and pride, preparing youth for racial bias, and promoting healthy distrust of the dominant racial/ethnic group. ERS practices promote academic engagement and achievement and serve as a protective factor among Black youth amid racist discrimination. Yet, little is known about what these practices may look like for Black children with disabilities as ERS practices have typically been studied among able-bodied children. Ultimately, findings from this study seek to serve as a resource to educators, researchers, and policy makers who work with or on behalf of Black families and their young children with disabilities to aid them in developing best practices that are rooted in anti-racism, anti-bias, and equity.
The purpose of this study is to evaluate two group-based treatments: (1) the Program for Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS), which targets social skills, and (2) Unstuck and On Target (UOT), which targets executive function skills. The interventions are two 45-minute sessions per week across 16 weeks and will be implemented by school-based staff in middle schools in North Carolina and Southern California (San Diego area).
The proposed study will employ several methodologies including single-case design and qualitative methods to explore processes and drivers necessary to support early intervention (EI) providers in using online modules with embedded coaching supports to: (a) increase their own knowledge and use of evidence-based practices (EBPs) and (b) support EI providers to coach caregivers to use EBPs. The study will examine factors that lead to effective EI services empowering caregivers of toddlers with autism to embed EBPs into their everyday routines and activities. We will collaborate with EI providers and caregivers of toddlers with autism to examine the extent to which online EBP modules with ongoing implementation support: •are perceived as useful and relevant to EI providers •effectively support EI providers and caregivers to embed EBPs with fidelity We also intend to: •determine if and how provider and caregiver use of EPBs impacts child coordinated joint engagement •explore provider and caregiver perceptions related to EBPs and implementing them By examining perceptions and outcomes related to implementing EBPs, the study may enhance the quality of EI professional practice and improve outcomes for children with autism and their caregivers.
The goal of this project is to validate the Early Communication Indicator for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ECI-ASD) using a robust and representative multi-site sample of well-characterized children with autism spectrum disorder to determine the psychometric features of this instrument and its ability to detect change over time.