Jenny Wells

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College: Education

College of Education Autism Research Yields Effective Model, Clinic for Children With ASD

Published: Nov 5, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 5, 2013) — With the support of an innovative research model, a clinic devoted to individualized intervention approaches for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been making huge impacts in the lives of Central Kentucky children and their families.

 

The Center for Autism Spectrum Evaluation, Service, and Research (CASPER) opened at the University of Kentucky last fall as part of the UK College of Education's Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology.  The clinic provides psychological services and support for children, youth and adults with ASD by integrating a variety of models that use best practices and outcome-based research. One of these models, the "Collaborative Model for Promoting Competence and Success for Students with ASD," or COMPASS, was developed by a team of researchers including Lisa Ruble, professor in the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology and co-director of the clinic.

 

"The elements of COMPASS that are being applied within CASPER are a focus on family-centered services that help address social, communication, and self-directed skills necessary for quality of life," said Ruble, who co-authored the book "COMPASS," after NIH-funded studies revealed that the model results in improved educational outcomes for children with ASD.

 

What makes COMPASS so innovative is that it's the first consulting framework to be validated by using controlled experiments and objective, trained evaluators of students with ASD. By emphasizing an individualized assessment for each student's needs based on his/her life experiences and family and teacher input, the model includes standard protocols, scripts, forms and case examples on which teachers and caregivers can base their program.

 

Jonathan Campbell, co-director of the clinic, serves as head of diagnostic services. He says the need for this type of clinic in Central Kentucky is even greater than faculty realized originally. There are currently 66 children and adolescents on a waiting list for diagnostic evaluations.

 

"It's a mixed reaction for me,” Campbell said, “seeing such a great need, but also knowing we have the opportunity to work with these children and families and, hopefully, make a difference in their lives."

 

Campbell also emphasized the importance of training future professionals to provide high quality services to children and families affected by autism. 

 

"Our goal is to train professionals and hopefully leaders that know about ASD and know about good clinical services for kids and families affected by autism," he said. "By teaching our students how to do these things, we extend our impact and influence."

 

While Ruble and Campbell oversee the clinic, day-to-day operations are run by UK graduate students. Since November 2012, these students completed 69 intake interviews for individuals with autism from 16 Kentucky counties. Twenty-three individuals received services provided by school psychology graduate students.

 

April Sigler, a graduate student in school psychology, is co-leading a social skills group for middle school boys with ASD, and finds the overall clinical experience very rewarding, personally and academically.

 

"It is exciting to be a part of such an important addition to our community because the CASPER clinic is not only helping families, but giving graduate clinicians the chance to practice our diagnostic and intervention skills," Sigler said. "With the prevalence in ASD diagnoses increasing rapidly over the past few years, it is really important to me and the rest of the students and faculty at UK to be able to disseminate accurate information about ASD to the families in our community and provide evidence-based interventions so that they have the knowledge and skills to be the best they can be."

 

Traci Boyd is a parent whose son Eli has ASD.  While they have only been coming to CASPER for a few weeks, she says they have already noticed a positive change.

 

"Just last Wednesday, the kids learned relaxation techniques; that night, Eli had a meltdown while doing homework," Boyd said. "We were able to use one of the techniques that they taught him to calm down. He has never been able to 'self-calm' before, so this was huge for us. I am enjoying it, too, because I get to spend time with parents in similar situations to mine. We are able to share experiences and suggestions with each other. That has been a God-send."

 

 

MEDIA CONTACT: Jenny Wells, (859) 257-5343; Jenny.Wells@uky.edu

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