IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Challenges in Transition to Adulthood for Individuals with Autism

An Interview with Researcher Leann Smith

Conducted by Kim Sprague, NCSER Program Officer

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 68 children have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. While the National Center of Special Education (NCSER) supports research on ASD through their grants program, few projects have focused on the needs of adolescents and young adults with ASD as they transition out of school. To address this pressing need, NCSER funded the Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (CSESA) in 2012. The focus of this Center is to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a comprehensive, school-based intervention for secondary students with ASD. The intervention, referred to as the CSESA model, builds on school and student strengths and incorporates evidence-based practices and strategies in order to help students succeed in high school and prepare them for life after high school.

I spoke with Leann Smith, an investigator at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, whose research focuses on adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder and their families. She is also a researcher on the CSESA project.

What are the key challenges for individuals with autism as they transition into adulthood?

As individuals with ASD transition into adulthood, they face many challenges. Importantly, ASD is a spectrum disorder, meaning that the behavioral profile is highly variable and includes a range of severity across multiple dimensions. Research shows that even though there is some abatement of symptoms as children grow into adults, significant limitations still persist and impact a range of outcomes.

After exiting high school, there is often a significant loss of services for these individuals, including access to insurance. Many families describe the experience of leaving high school as “falling off a cliff.” In the absence of appropriate services and supports, young adults with ASD may struggle in finding employment and maintaining social connections after they leave high school. Research shows that, compared to individuals with other disabilities, individuals with ASD are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed. This is true for those with and without an intellectual disability in addition to ASD. Given the increasing number of individuals with ASD who are moving into adulthood, we know we will need new, research-based interventions to better serve individuals on the spectrum during this transitional period and beyond.

What is your role in the CSESA development and research project? 

Currently we are implementing a randomized control trial of the comprehensive CSESA model in 60 high schools across the country. As an investigator on the project, I am leading CSESA efforts with the 20 Wisconsin schools that are participating in the study. The goal of the CSESA model is to provide high quality professional development and evidence-based interventions to support educators, families, and students during the high school years. Our role has focused on adapting a school-based version of an education and support program for families called Transitioning Together for inclusion as a component of the CSESA model. We originally developed the 8-week Transitioning Together curriculum for implementation in clinical settings but adapted it so it can be used in high school settings.

What can be done to promote successful transition into adulthood?

When you look at early intervention for autism, there are a lot of different models, and we have a pretty good sense of evidence-based practices for young children with autism. There isn’t anything analogous to that for youth and adults. In supporting individuals with ASD, we need services to start as early as possible, and provide more intensive services than what is currently offered in many middle and high schools. Ideally, we would sequence the appropriate support over time and at each developmental phase, starting with early intervention, moving into school, and then meeting the needs of adolescents and adults in school and community settings. However, there is a definite lack of support for individuals with ASD who are facing the challenges of adulthood at this time. The CSESA model provides support that is needed earlier, prior to their transition to promote successful outcomes. For those who are interested in learning more, we currently have multiple resources for professionals and families available on the CSESA website including free professional development curriculum created in collaboration with the Organization for Autism Research as well as guides about evidence-based practices. There is also an “Autism At A Glance” series which highlights strategies for supporting high schools students on a wide range of topics such as functional communication and exercise.   

We are now recruiting participants to test an intervention focused on reducing stress for young adults with autism and their families. The hope is that stress reduction will help the young people take on adult roles. Reducing stress and emotional intensity has a stabilizing effect, which can help people be more empowered and able to maintain a job. Among other things, participants will rehearse problem-solving steps and learn a coping strategy that can help reduce stress: reinterpreting challenges or difficult events as opportunities for growth. Even if you can’t change the stressor, you can change how you think about it.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Leann Smith and other researchers were interviewed in this recent Washington Post article on supporting adults with ASD.

Comments or questions for IES? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov.  

Children’s approaches to learning and academic achievement in the early grades

By Grace Kena

Children’s skills early in school are of interest to educators and policy makers due, in part, to their association with school achievement in the later grades. NCES assesses children’s knowledge and measures their skills through data collections such as the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011).

This study collected information from a sample of students at kindergarten entry as well as from their parents and their teachers, and will continue to follow the students through the early elementary grades. Through the ECLS-K:2011, NCES conducted direct assessments and gathered information related to other aspects of students’ development, including socioemotional development and approaches to learning. As part of the study, students’ teachers were asked to report on how the kindergartners approached learning by examining and reporting on seven behaviors: paying attention, persisting in completing tasks, showing eagerness to learn new things, working independently, adapting easily to changes in routine, keeping belongings organized, and following classroom rules.

Findings from The Condition of Education 2015 show that first-time kindergartners who demonstrated these positive learning behaviors “very often” in the fall of kindergarten had higher average reading and mathematics assessment scores than kindergartners who demonstrated these behaviors less often. First-time kindergartners who “never” exhibited the seven approaches to learning behaviors in the fall of kindergarten not only scored lower in reading and mathematics in the fall than children who had more positive learning approaches, but they continued to score lower than the other groups when the children were assessed again in the spring of their kindergarten year and in the spring of their first grade year.


Average mathematics scale scores of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by frequency of positive approaches to learning behaviors in fall of kindergarten year: Fall 2010, spring 2011, and spring 2012

Figure. Average mathematics scale scores of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by frequency of positive approaches to learning behaviors in fall of kindergarten year: Fall 2010, spring 2011, and spring 2012

NOTE: Possible scores for the mathematics assessments range from 0 to 96. Frequency of positive approaches to learning behaviors is derived from kindergartners' fall 2010 Approaches to Learning scale scores.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, ECLS-K:2011. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 220.40.


As an example of these differences, the average fall kindergarten mathematics score for students who “very often” showed positive learning behaviors was 36 points, compared to 18 points for children who “never” demonstrated positive learning behaviors. When measured again in the spring of the kindergarten year, the average mathematics score for children who had “never” demonstrated positive learning behaviors at the beginning of the kindergarten year (29 points) remained below the fall average score for those children who had exhibited positive approaches to learning “very often.”

For more information on approaches to learning and kindergarten and first grade achievement, including breakdowns for children of different demographic groups, see the spotlight on this topic in The Condition of Education 2015, or watch the video below. 

Creating Pathways to Doctoral Study in the Education Sciences

By Katina Stapleton, NCER Program Officer 

 

In April 2015, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) launched its newest research training funding opportunity: the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program. The purpose of the Pathways Training Program is to fund new innovative training programs that promote diversity and prepare underrepresented students for doctoral study in education research. In this blog, I want to provide some background on how the Pathways Training Program was developed and respond to frequently asked questions.

NCER has supported research training programs since 2004, training over 900 pre- and post-doctoral fellows. In 2014, NCER and NCSER sought input from our stakeholders to determine what was going well with our training programs, and to identify areas where we could improve. For example, we held a Technical Working Group meeting, solicited public comment, and engaged with our PIs during our IES Principal Investigators meeting. We also discussed the future of our training programs with the National Board of Education Sciences. As part of these conversations, we asked participants to reflect on whether the needs of the education sciences are the same as when the training programs were established.  One issue that emerged was the demographic shifts taking place across the nation and the need for education researchers to be attuned to an array of social, cultural, and economic issues as they plan and conduct their work. Another issue that emerged was the need to increase the diversity of fellows served by our training programs and in the education research profession as a whole. 

NCER developed the Pathways Training Program in response to this input. The Pathways training program is modeled on efforts by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health  to increase diversity in the sciences. The Pathways program establishes research training programs at Minority Serving Institutions (and their partners) that will provide students, especially underrepresented students, with an introduction to education research and scientific methods, meaningful opportunities to participate in education research studies, and professional development and mentoring that leads to doctoral study.

The core feature of the Pathways Training Program is a required research apprenticeship, in which fellows gain hands-on research experience under the supervision of faculty mentors. While there are several additional recommended components, the Pathways Training Program Request for Applications (RFA) was purposefully designed to encourage innovation, and therefore provides applicants with wide latitude in how the training program is structured, the student population of interest (i.e. advanced undergrad vs. post-baccalaureate vs. masters), and the training partners involved. Since the request for applications was released, we have received several questions from interested applicants. We have responded to those questions below:     

  • Are individual Pathways programs restricted to minority students? No. The Pathways Training Program, is open to all students, however, it seeks to increase the number of fellows from groups underrepresented in doctoral study, including racial and ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, economically disadvantaged students, veterans, and students with disabilities. We encourage all Pathways applicants to consult the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Right’s Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Postsecondary Education when deciding their student population of interest and developing their proposed program’s recruitment plan.
  • Is my institution eligible to apply? The Pathways Training Program was designed to award training grants to minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and other institutions of higher education in partnership with MSIs. MSIs are institutions of higher education in the United States and its territories enrolling populations with significant percentages of undergraduate minority students or that serve certain populations of minority students under various programs created by Congress or other federal agencies. The Institute chose to focus on MSIs because of their long history as critical stepping stones for underrepresented minority students who pursue doctoral degrees. The RFA defines several categories of MSIs, gives criteria for being considered an eligible MSI, and provides 3 lists that applicants can use to certify that their institution is an eligible MSI for the purpose of this RFA. If your institution does not meet these criteria, then you will have to partner with an eligible MSI in order to apply. If you have any questions, please contact Katina Stapleton, the program officer for the Pathways Program, for assistance. However, ultimately, it will be your institution’s responsibility to demonstrate that it is an eligible MSI.  
  • Can my institution submit more than one Pathways application? No. An institution may submit only one application to the Pathways Training Program. If more than one application from your institution is submitted, IES will only accept one of them for consideration. We recommend that before applying you contact your institution’s sponsored projects’ office to make sure there isn’t another Pathways application already in progress.
  • Can my institution participate in more than one Pathways application? Yes. Please note that the Pathways program is structured so that applications can be submitted by single institutions or by partnerships of two or more institutions. While institutions can only submit one application, it is possible for institutions to serve as a partner on multiple applications.
  • Can I still apply even though I missed the deadline for the Letter of Intent? Yes. Letters of Intent are completely optional. Therefore, even if you missed the deadline, you can still submit an application. If you missed the deadline, but would still like feedback on your proposed training program, please contact Katina Stapleton.

If you would like to learn more about the Pathways Training Program and other potential funding opportunities, please sign up for the Funding Opportunities for Minority Serving Institutions webinar that will be held on Tuesday, June 9th, 2015, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM ET. 

The Month in Review: May 2015

By Liz Albro, NCER Associate Commissioner of Teaching and Learning

Every month is filled with activities at the two research centers at IES, and sometimes our readers might miss information that they would be interested in learning more about. In our “Month in Review” feature, we plan to highlight some of the most noteworthy happenings of the past month.  Enjoy!

New Research Awards

It’s award season at the research centers! The first set of awards that we made since our blog launched were to our new FY 2015 Small Business Innovation Research awardees. We featured the program and the new awards in the second blog post of Inside IES Research. Stay tuned next month for more information about our soon-to-be announced FY 2015 education and special education research grant award winners.

Grantees Recognized by Professional Societies

We were pleased to learn that Jeffrey Karpicke received a 2015 APS Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions at the 27th Annual Association for Psychological Sciences (APS) Convention last week. Dr. Karpicke was a Department of Education 2012 Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (PECASE) recipient, and is currently implementing a program of research seeking to identify the best practices for implementing retrieval-oriented learning strategies with elementary school students in science courses.

APS also honored the collaborative work of Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Golinkoff with the 2015 APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award.  Drs. Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff were recognized for their collaborative research on language, literacy, education, and spatial development.  IES is supporting several of their current research projects.

Students in our IES supported predoctoral programs are also being recognized for their research. Mindy Adnot, a graduate student in the University of Virginia Predoctoral Training Program, recently received an AERA-MET Dissertation Fellowship to Study Changes in Teaching Practice. She will be examining the degree to which teaching practice is malleable.

IES Funded Research in the News

Zaption, a video learning company and the recipient of several IES SBIR awards, recently received $1.5 million in seed funding.

The IES funded National R&D Center on Cognition and Math Instruction, whose primary goal is to redesign a widely-used mathematics curriculum to make it more effective at improving students’ math abilities, was recently featured in this EdWeek article.

As students of all grade levels move into final exams, Dr. Henry Roediger was interviewed in a Chronicle of Higher Education article, where he discussed how exams improve student learning. Many of the findings that Dr. Roediger references emerge from a series of studies funded by IES.

Planning to Apply for Research Funding This Summer?

Be sure to sign up for one or more of our webinars for applicants. Our webinar series were announced this month – more information is available here

 

Comments? Suggestions? Please contact us at IESResearch@ed.gov.

Introducing the Research Networks: A New Funding Opportunity from NCER

By Tom Brock, NCER Commissioner

In April 2015, NCER announced a new funding opportunity: Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice (84.305N).  The purpose of the Networks is to focus resources and attention on education problems or issues that are a high priority for the nation, and to create both a structure and process for research teams who are working on these issues to share ideas, build new knowledge, and strengthen their research and dissemination capacity.  In this blog, I want to provide some background on how the Networks program came into being and what NCER hopes to achieve.

Over the past year and a half, NCER and NCSER have undertaken a variety of efforts to elicit feedback from education researchers, practitioners, and other stakeholders on IES research and training programs, and to identify problems or issues on which new research is most needed.  These efforts have included Technical Working Group meetings with practitioners and researchers, and a call for public comment that was issued in August 2014.  One theme that emerged was the desire for NCER and NCSER to dedicate funding to particular issues or problems that are widely recognized as important and that seem ripe for research advances.  Strengthening preschool education and boosting college attendance and completion rates for students from low-income backgrounds were frequently cited examples.  Another theme was to consider funding strategies that would encourage greater collaboration among researchers to tackle difficult education topics.  These themes were echoed during meetings with Department of Education staff.    

NCER’s plans for the Networks emerged from these discussions.  The Network on Supporting Early Learning from Preschool through Early Elementary School Grades (or Early Learning Network for short) was motivated in part by the significant expansion of prekindergarten programs in many states and cities across the country, and by the growing body of evidence on the effectiveness of interventions designed to improve outcomes for early learners.  Despite these advances, a persistent academic achievement gap between children from different household income levels and educational backgrounds is present at kindergarten entry and widens during the school years.  The Early Learning Network is charged with conducting in-depth, exploratory research to investigate how selected states and localities are implementing early learning policies and programs, and to identify malleable factors that facilitate or impede children’s academic progress as they move from preschool through early elementary school grades. This research is intended to generate reliable information and useful tools that policymakers and practitioners can use to assess their efforts to build effective early learning systems and programs and to make improvements as needed.

The Network on Scalable Strategies to Support College Completion (or College Completion Network for short) was conceived in response to studies showing that large numbers of degree-seeking students who attend community colleges and other open- and broad-access institutions fail to earn a degree six years after enrollment.  To date, most of NCER’s postsecondary education research has focused on efforts to increase college access or to help students complete developmental (or remedial) education requirements; much less has focused on assisting students to earn diplomas once they are in college and taking college-level courses.  The College Completion Network will address this gap.  Specifically, it will support researchers who are working with states, postsecondary systems, or postsecondary institutions to develop and evaluate interventions that address possible impediments to college attainment, including high college costs, insufficient advising, and social/psychological barriers, to name a few.  The Network will study interventions that are already operating or have the potential to operate on a large scale. The ultimate goal of the College Completion Network is to provide evidence on a range of strategies that policymakers and college leaders may consider adopting or expanding in their states and institutions.

The Early Learning and College Completion Networks will each be made of up to four research teams, plus a Network Lead that is responsible for coordinating Network activities.  (The Early Learning Network will also include up to one assessment team that is responsible for developing a new or improving an existing classroom observation tool that is predictive of children’s school achievement.)  Each team will be funded to carry out a project of its own design, and will meet periodically with other teams to discuss research plans and progress and identify ways that they can strengthen their work through collaboration.  For example, members of the Early Learning or College Completion Networks may decide to work together on some common data collection tools or outcome measures, and to produce a research synthesis at the end of their projects.  NCER will set aside additional funding that each Network can use toward supplementary studies and joint dissemination activities that are useful to policymakers, practitioners, and other researchers.  

The ultimate objective of the Networks is to advance the field’s understanding of a problem or issue beyond what an individual research project or team is able to do on its own, and to assist policymakers and practitioners in using this information to strengthen education policies and programs and improve student education outcomes.  While the composition of the Networks will not be known until proposals are received and evaluated by scientific review panels, NCER hopes that they represent a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives and include both senior and early career researchers.  Over time, the Networks may lead to new collaborations and lay a foundation for new lines of inquiry.

The Early Learning and College Completion Networks build on the lessons learned from the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative program and represent one strategy that NCER is taking to address critical problems of practice identified by education researchers, practitioners, and other stakeholders.  If you have comments on this year’s Request for Applications – or if you have other feedback you would like to share – please write to us at IESResearch@ed.gov.