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High School Inclusion Program for Students with Autism SpectrumDisorders


Researchers at Vanderbilt and Lehigh Universities propose to conduct a project to meet the purpose of the IES Special Education Research Program on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Specifically, we propose to conduct a Development and Innovation project to (a) develop an innovative and comprehensive school-based intervention model to address the unique needs of high school students identified with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and intellectual disabilities (ID) and (b) address the feasibility of implementation of the intervention. One stated purpose of the ASD Research Program is "developing innovative comprehensive preschool and school-based interventions or modifying existing interventions to make them comprehensive to address the developmental, cognitive, communicative, academic, social, behavioral, and functional needs of students identified with ASD." We propose to address this purpose by developing a comprehensive intervention model to improve multiple outcomes across three core areas of need characteristic of students with ASD: communication, social participation, and academic engagement. In addition, IES encourages "applicants to develop or evaluate instructional approaches or strategies appropriate for students in middle and high school with ASD that will improve communication, behavior, and adaptive skills across academic and vocational instruction." We propose to contribute to the severely limited intervention research base addressing high school students with ASD by developing our model for a high school population. Further, consistent with the requirements for Development/Innovation projects, at the end of Year 3 we intend to produce a fully developed version of our proposed intervention, prototypes of materials necessary for implementation of the intervention, feasibility of implementation data, and pilot data indicating the promise of the intervention.

Our proposed intervention, Peer-Assisted SupportS (PASS) comprises two components that will be adapted to the unique needs of students with ASD and ID:  (a) peer-assisted communication instruction to improve participating students' communication skills, and (b) peer-assisted supports to increase participating students' academic engagement and social participation in expected classroom and school social activities. Following an iterative process, we will develop the intervention by adapting our evidence-based curriculum for increasing school engagement of high school students with ID and related disabilities titled Peer Buddy Programs for Successful Secondary School Inclusion (Hughes & Carter, 2008). In addition, we will incorporate existing peer-mediated and other social-communication interventions shown to be effective for younger students with ASD and additional strategies effective with high school students with ID. Expected outcomes of the proposed intervention include: (a) improved communication skills, (b) increased social participation in class and school activities, and (c) increased academic engagement and participation in expected classroom activities.

Participants will be drawn from two settings: (a) Metropolitan Nashville (TN) Public Schools and (b) Lehigh, Northampton, and Bucks Counties (PA) Public Schools. Selection criteria for student participation will include (a) a diagnosis of ASD and ID, (b) enrollment in grades 9-12, (c) communication behaviors that include at least 1-2 word utterances or gestures, (c) inclusion in at least one general education class, (d) demonstrated need for intervention in target skill areas, and (e) interest in participating.    Grant ID: 112