KU awarded $13 million in grants to help families affected by autism spectrum disorder

Published: Nov. 28, 2020 at 6:27 PM CST
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - The University of Kansas has been awarded $13 million to support interventions for families that have been affected by autism spectrum disorder.

The University of Kansas says through the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, it is a partner in two autism spectrum disorder research projects that have recently been awarded $13 million in federal grant money.

KU said one grant funds the continuation of the Autism Intervention Research Network for Behavioral Health based at the University of California - Los Angeles. It said this is a project that focuses on partnering with community groups and key stakeholders to give access to effective interventions for underserved families. It said an additional funded project between KU and the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill is looking to evaluate the use of an assessment tool to monitor the progress of interventions for young children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

“These grants continue our decades-long emphasis on community-participatory research – involving the community in describing and addressing their needs through research, and with their input – as well as our long-standing focus on children’s development and autism,” said Brian Boyd, director of the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project in Kansas City, Kansas.

According to KU, the AIR-B 4 grant funds three intervention studies where all utilize a team-based approach relying on social networks and on partnering with community providers to implement the studies. It said two of the interventions will be implemented through Juniper Gardens, among other university partners.

KU said the Mind Gap portion of the project focuses on making resources available and supporting families soon after a child is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It said such early support has been proven to improve family empowerment and access to services. It said Juniper Gardens will work with existing and new community partners and families to carry out the research.

According to the University, additionally, through the AIR-B 4 grant, it will build on its broad research in self-determination to improve outcomes for adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder. It said self-determination, or the ability to act as an agent in one’s own life in order to reach goals, has been pioneered at the university through the Kansas Center on Developmental Disabilities.

KU said self-determination will be taught through a three-phase process called the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction, which will help students gain the necessary skills for success later in life. It said the study also involves partnering whit area school districts in Lawrence and Kansas City, as well as districts near the University of California - Los Angeles, the University of Washington and the University of California - Davis.

“There’s an emphasis in these studies on working with underserved schools and communities,” Boyd said. “We already know that many of these interventions are effective, so this is much more about determining if we can get community agencies to implement and sustain these interventions long term without the heavy involvement of researchers.”

According to KU, as part of AIR B-4, it will establish community advisory boards that may include teachers, administrators, social workers, parents, autistic individuals themselves and other community stakeholders who would have an interest in supporting children with autism. It said interested parties can reach out to the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at brian.boyd@ku.edu or 913-321-3143.

KU said additionally, Boys is leading a $3 million project that will validate a method of measuring changes in social communication and language skills in children ages 1-5 who have autism spectrum disorder. It said Juniper Gardens Children’s Project is a part of the KU Life Span Institute and will help the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill recruit 400 participants for the study.

According to the university, the measurement tool will be based on the Early Communication Indicator, which is part of a set of Individual Growth and Development Indicators for babies and toddlers, which were developed at Juniper Gardens. It said the grant will verify that the ECI measure can show if a young kid with autism spectrum disorder is progressing at the expected developmental rate and determine if they are responding to interventions or treatments.

KU said there is no tool currently available that easily allows practitioners, parents and caregivers to monitor progress, visualize data and conduct live scoring for children in this population.

“We already have evidence that this tool can measure early communication progress in young children,” Boyd said. “Our goal is to determine if this tool specifically works or can be used with young children with autism.”

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