Two of the most often-used classroom approaches for teaching young children with autism have never been evaluated, until now. With a $3 million federal grant, FPG Child Development Institute (FPG) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will soon begin answering questions about the programs' efficacy.
Another $5 million federal grant will establish a national autism professional development center, which will help states incorporate effective practices for children with autism in classrooms, homes and communities.
Autism is characterized by impairment in communication skills, social interactions and repetitive patterns of behavior. In the past two decades the number of children diagnosed with autism has sky-rocketed 20 fold by some estimates. This rapid increase has placed great demand on early intervention and education agencies to provide effective educational and intervention services for children and their families.
'Research shows that if we intervene early, we can greatly enhance the lives of children with autism. This new work will help ensure not only that children are diagnosed as early as possible, but that when they are diagnosed they receive the most effective treatment by professionals who are prepared and knowledgeable,' said Samuel L. Odom, FPG director and principal investigator for both grants.
The $3 million grant, from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Science, will compare two classroom-based approaches that follow different conceptual models. In one approach, the classroom environment and teaching are shaped to fit the characteristics of children with autism by, for example, minimizing distractions, using visual cues and establishing highly predictable routines.
The other emphasizes learning in regular early childhood curriculum activities and with assistance from typically developing peers. Although both models are widely used, neither has been evaluated for its short or long-term impact on children with autism.
The $5 million grant, from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, will create a professional development center to work with states to increase the number of personnel prepared to teach children with autism and to promote early identification and diagnosis.
This work will be completed through a partnership between FPG and other UNC partners (Division TEACCH, the Clinical Center for the Study and Development of Learning and the Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Center), the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California, Davis