The focus of this Center is a program of research to develop and evaluate a comprehensive, school-based intervention for secondary students with ASD. The purpose of the intervention is to improve cognitive, communicative, academic, social, behavioral, functional, or transition outcomes of secondary students with ASD. The Center's primary research will involve (1) developing a comprehensive school- and community-based treatment model for high school students with ASD, and (2) evaluating the efficacy of the intervention. Intervention Development and Pilot Studies:
The research team will develop an intervention (Years 1 and 2) with five components: (1) evidence-based practice implementation and quality improvement (the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders [NPDC] Model, which is the core component of the intervention); (2) academic performance; (3) social competence and peer relations; (4) adaptive behavior; and (5) transition and family. The iterative development process will begin with conducting focus groups with relevant stakeholders (e.g., special and general education teachers, administrators, related service providers, school counselors, family members, individuals with ASD, and typically developing high school students), which will provide feedback for the work groups developing the components. Following this process, the four content components – academics, social competence, adaptive behavior, and transition and families – will be piloted in high schools as single components. These pilot studies will obtain data on feasibility and fidelity of implementation, which will be used to revise and manualize the intervention components. In the second year of the project, each of the six research sites will pilot test a combination of three model components. Each combination will include the core NPDC model plus two content components, and every combination of three components will be tested. Efficacy Study:
The Center will recruit a large sample of high schools across three states (North Carolina, Wisconsin, and California) to participate in the efficacy study (Years 3–5), leading to a total of at least 60 schools that meet the inclusion criteria, with at least 12 students with ASD participating at each high school. A multiple cohort design will be used with each cohort participating for 2 years. Using a randomized cluster design, schools within each state will be paired and randomly assigned to treatment or control (business as usual). At each treatment site, all components of the intervention will be implemented in graduated steps over 2 years. This study will examine the cumulative efficacy as the intervention is implemented as well as the overall efficacy of the complete intervention on a variety of child outcomes relevant to the different component topics. The study will also examine potential child- and school-level moderators and changes in program quality as a mediator. For the first cohort, there will be follow-up to explore whether treatment effects are maintained after the intervention officially ends and to explore transition outcomes for those students who have transitioned out of high school.