Long the domain of university labs, autism research is taking the critical next step into the real world of special education classrooms. Investigators from The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance are exploring answers to some of the long-standing questions about how best to treat children with autism.
“The classroom is an ideal environment to study interventions for children with autism,” said Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, Director of the Alliance, “but the majority of autism research takes place in a laboratory setting. By transitioning research out of the lab, we can test the true benefit of our interventions for children with autism in a natural environment and open the door to exciting new possibilities.”
Currently, 12 cutting-edge Alliance studies are underway, including:
- Research into studying how children with autism can be more successful in school
- Improving the social skills and independence of young adults with autism
- Using play and joint attention to improve language skills for preschoolers with autism
- Improving social skills and friendship quality for teens with autism
- Understanding the positive impact of music education
- Using brain imaging to understand how children with autism process emotion in music
- Studying how children with autism recognize complex emotions in faces
- Exploring therapies to reduce social anxiety in schoolchildren and adolescents with autism
- Helping parents utilize evidence-based treatments for preschool children with autism
- Understanding how children with autism hear and process sounds in their environments
- Examining the differences in development among adolescents with autism from those with mild intellectual disabilities or typical development
Through this groundbreaking approach to research, investigators are examining pressing issues confronting children with autism and their families. “While a lot of studies are focusing on the causes of autism, or potential cures, it’s important to research new and innovative ways to treat children now,” says Charity Vanderveer, whose son Dublin graduated from The Help Group’s Young Learners Preschool. “It’s only through treatment that our children will have the opportunity to become the best they can be and reach their fullest potential.”
In an effort to help their children with autism, parents often pursue a myriad of treatments; however, without research to validate a specific approach, a true measure of value can be elusive.
One example of translational research by the Alliance includes testing the effects of treatment in joint attention skills for young children with autism at The Help Group’s Young Learners Preschool. Joint attention skills include showing, pointing, and sharing an event or object with another person in an effort to share the experience. Children with autism tend to lack this ability. Research indicates that if joint attention skills are improved, language development may follow. The progress of participating Young Learners students will test this hypothesis.
The Alliance is a unique partnership between The Help Group, a leader in autism education, and the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, an Autism Center for Excellence. Through the pioneering vision of Dr. Barbara Firestone, President & CEO of The Help Group, and Dr. Peter Whybrow, Director of the UCLA Semel Institute, the Alliance has grown into one of the most innovative autism research partnerships in the United States.
For more information about the research projects currently in progress through The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance, please contact Dr. Liz Laugeson at (310) 206-8139 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founded in 1975, The Help Group is the largest, most innovative nonprofit organization of its kind in the U.S. serving children with autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities and other special needs. The Help Group’s specialized education and therapy programs serve more than 6,000 children and families each year. Through outreach, parent and professional education efforts, The Help Group extends its reach to countless others nationally and internationally. www.thehelpgroup.org.
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