High-school students with autism focus of new national $10 million research initiative

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute has been awarded a five-year, $10 million federal grant to create a new research and development center to help high school students with autism-related disorders.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences will involve multiple research sites and collaboration with researchers at UNC-Charlotte, Vanderbilt University and the universities of California at Davis, Wisconsin at Madison, and Texas at Austin.

The new Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders aims to develop school- and community-based educational programs and interventions for high school students with autism spectrum disorders, or ASD. The center also will assess the effectiveness of these programs for students during high school and when they transition to other settings.

As autism rates have increased, research has typically focused on how to help young children through early identification and intervention, said Sam Odom, Ph.D., director of UNC’s Frank Porter Graham institute and senior scientist and professor in the School of Education.

The new UNC-based center will help extend the knowledge base about what strategies work best through late adolescence into young adulthood, he said.

“Every year more adolescents with ASD are entering high school, and the research about effective programs for those students and their families is very limited,” Odom said. “Our new center aims to help fill that gap by collaborating with national special education leaders to develop new programs and evaluate their impact in high schools across the country.”

Odom will co-direct the new center with Kara Hume, Ph.D., a Frank Porter Graham institute investigator.

Odom is principal investigator for the National Professional Development Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, a multi-university center to promote the use of evidence-based practices for children and adolescents with ASD. He also leads a research study focusing on toddlers with autism funded by Autism Speaks, a science and advocacy organization.

Published June 20, 2012.