Autism Instructional Methods Study
The number of evidence-based behavioral interventions for children with autism has increased dramatically over the last few decades. Community practice has lagged far behind, however. Instruction and support for children with autism in most schools does not mirror the evidence base and generally has been found ineffective in promoting student outcomes.
CAR's Philadelphia Instructional Methods Study (AIMS) represents an academic-public partnership designed to improve intervention quality for elementary school children with autism in the School District of Philadelphia. It also constitutes the largest randomized trial to date of a behavioral intervention for children with autism, having enrolled 494 children in 73 classrooms.
In Year 1 of AIMS, two classroom-based interventions, Strategies for Teaching based on Autism Research (STAR) and Structured Teaching were tested against each other. In Year 2, the District chose STAR as its standard of care, all teachers were trained in it, and practice effects as well as the role of teacher and student-level moderators were measured. Year 3 developed strategies for sustainability.
AIMS has provided important information about the effectiveness of proven-efficacious interventions for children with autism in public school settings, critical moderators of outcome, and issues related to long-term maintenance of evidence-based practice.
Although the study has ended, AIMS continues to provide professional development training and in-classroom consultation to more than 120 classroom teams in kindergarten-through-5th-grade autism support classrooms across the city.
A number of new studies have grown out of CAR's initial trial. Our current studies examine implementation of social skills interventions in schools and the best ways to increase teachers' use of evidence-based behavioral interventions for children with autism, such as Applied Behavior Analytic approaches like discrete trial training, pivotal response training, and functional routines. The ultimate goal of these studies is to determine the best strategies to implement proven-efficacious interventions in community settings so that they are effective and sustain once training is complete. We accomplish this goal by assessing which types of interventions are most readily implemented in schools, and what supports teachers need to implement these interventions.