The CSESA team completed the Year 1 Pilot studies in June 2013. We looked at a variety of school-based interventions to see what is practical and useful for high school settings and likely to be used by high school staff. The CSESA team also studied how the interventions impacted a variety of outcomes for students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) such as social skills, reading comprehension, and independence. Based on information that was collected from students, families, and educators, we revised the procedures and content for each of the interventions.
Below are short summaries of the pilot studies.
Academic Pilot Studies
The team at University of North Carolina at Charlotte conducted two pilot studies on interventions that supported comprehension of literature and informational texts. The interventions used a modified system of least prompts. The studies included 5 high school students with ASD who access alternate achievement standards aligned to the general curriculum. Three students received instruction on science e-texts and two students received instruction on an age appropriate adapted novel. Both texts were read aloud to students by either computerized voice output (science e-texts) or instructor (novels) and students answered comprehension questions verbally or by selecting a picture-with-descriptor symbol. Data were collected on students’ independent correct response and on level of prompting required for assisted responses. Findings from this phase of the project are expected in Fall 2013.
The University of Texas at Austin research team conducted a pilot study on a reading comprehension intervention with 3 students in a rural Texas high school.. The multi-component intervention is adapted from Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR) as a reading comprehension intervention with a cooperative learning feature which was modified for high school students with autism (CSR-HS). Students with ASD were paired up with peers to learn and apply the CSR–HS strategies with text provided by the researchers. Researchers implemented 30-minute sessions twice a week. The targeted student also received a CSR–HS tutorial session once a week. Data analysis of year 1 findings is ongoing. Preliminary results indicate that participating students with ASD who received the CSR–HS intervention increased in number of correct reading comprehension responses, increased number of social interactions, and decreased in the number challenging behaviors observed.
Independence Pilot Study
The team at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a pilot study on an assessment and intervention process to address independence in high school students with ASD. The CSESA team worked with 3 students with ASD, their parents, and 5 staff members across different programs within the school. The intervention used an online, project-developed tool with students, parents, and school staff to assess students’ strengths and needs related to independence. The team then worked together to choose evidence-based interventions to support the students’ needs, and then worked with the students on the interventions. Each intervention also included the use of technology, such as an iPad, iTouch, laptop, or video camera to assist in teaching new skills. The team noted changes in student skills, including increases in on task- behavior and assignment completion, problem solving, and initiation of requests. Staff rated the process favorably and students indicated that working on these skills helped to make them more independent in the school setting.
Social Pilot Studies
The team at Vanderbilt University conducted two pilot studies of peer network interventions involving 3 high schools, 6 students with autism spectrum disorders, 6 school staff, and 14 peers. Each student with ASD participated in a social network that was facilitated by a school staff member (e.g., teacher, paraprofessional). During each network meeting, students with and without ASD participated in social activities and conversations in groups of 2-5 students. Researchers looked at students’ social engagement, the amount of adult facilitation needed, the quality of interactions, and social-related goal progress for each student. Findings from this phase of the project are expected in Fall 2013.
The team at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted two pilot studies involving 4 students with autism, 3 project staff, 3 school staff, and 8 peers. A CSESA staff member conducted the Social Competence Intervention – High School (SCI-H, Stichter et al., 2013), a group intervention that addresses social competence skills. The students with ASD participated in 45-minute sessions two times per week over the course of a semester. Three of the four students also participated in a social network that was facilitated by a CSESA staff member. Each social network consisted of 1-2 students with ASD and 2-4 peers without ASD. The social networks met weekly and participated in social activities and conversations during lunch. Students with ASD and their parents, peer partners, and school staff completed social validity forms to help our research team understand the advantages and disadvantages of the interventions from their perspectives. Findings from this phase of the project are expected in Fall 2013.
The team at the MIND Institute in California piloted a peer support intervention in 2 high school classrooms involving 2 students with autism spectrum disorder, 4 peer supports and 3 school staff. The school and CSESA staff met weekly with the peer supports during lunch and taught them techniques that allowed the student with ASD to increase social opportunities in their classroom setting. Although the intervention only occurred over a few weeks, the students with ASD demonstrated increased social interactions and social skills including initiating conversations, asking questions and less reliance on the teacher to stay on task. In a survey at the completion of the intervention, the peer supports expressed positive changes in how they related to their peers with ASD. One student wrote, “It's made me realize [that] social skills [don’t] come to everyone, and just by having a small conversation you can help. Everyone should be doing this."
Transition Pilot Studies
The team at University of North Carolina at Charlotte conducted a pilot study of transition planning interventions involving one high school, 5 students with autism spectrum disorders, and 5 school staff. School staff members met with the research team regarding the use of transition assessment data to guide transition planning and documentation in the IEP for their students with ASD. Each of the five students with ASD participated in a series of lessons to teach participation in the IEP meeting and a work-based learning experience facilitated by a research team member. During each session, the student learned about self-advocacy specifically related to the IEP process and sampled career or college-ready experiences. School resource mapping was completed with the assistance of school staff. Community resource mapping was completed with the assistance of community members from Autism Speaks, Autism Society of North Carolina Parent Advocates, First In Families Director, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Program Specialist for Autism.
Coming soon: University of Wisconsin at Madison pilot study on transition and families