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 FPG News Story

In June, Brian Boyd, PhD, interim director of FPG and William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Education in the UNC School of Education, hosted the first in-person meeting of the Black Empowerment in Autism Network, which met in Peabody Hall on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

Featured Publication

The Social Skills Improvement System Rating Scales (SSIS-RS) evaluate three domains of social functioning: social skills, problem behaviors, and academic competence. FPG researchers contributed to a study that explored the factor structure of the SSIS-RS, examined how autistic children were rated, and evaluated how scores related to special education placement.

Featured FPG News Story

To expand use of evidence-based practices for students with autism, the National Professional Development Center on Autism (NPDC) team has developed a virtual training for professionals who work with autistic students from pre-K through 12th grade. Learn more about the training.

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.
The Early Childhood Inclusion Professional Learning Program led by Chih-Ing Lim, PhD. at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Elena Soukakou, PhD., is committed to support the Community Psychology Hub, Singapore in ensuring that the InSP program is implemented effectively to serve young children with disabilities.
The pilot study presented in this proposal is a collaborative effort between the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) and the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The intended outcomes of this program are to positively impact inclusion in early childhood classrooms and kindergarten readiness for children with disabilities. Consisting of a 5 day, in-person, professional development (PD) opportunity and Networked Improvement Community (NIC) meetings that are targeted to meet the individual needs of the participants, we propose a three-phase process. Phase 1 includes targeted observations of inclusive STEM practices. Phase 2 includes a 5-day PD opportunity, planned and facilitated by UMBC and STEMIE. PD sessions will be designed to foster the participants’ engagement in inclusive STEM teaching. Phase 2 sessions will be developed based on observed needs of the participating teachers and support participants in using STEMIE resources (e.g. learning trajectories) within the scope of their own curriculum. A series of NIC meetings will be held focusing on areas of need identified by the participants to allow for collaborative problem solving with investigators serving as facilitators. The final phase (Phase 3) will include targeted observations of participants to assess progress.
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.
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 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.