Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

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.  

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.

Jumpstarting Innovation in Education Technology through SBIR

By Edward Metz, ED/IES SBIR Program Manager

Did you know that IES provides funding to develop computer games and other applications to support teaching and learning?

The U.S. Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research program, operated out of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), funds projects to develop education technology products designed to support student learning and teacher practice in general or special education. The program emphasizes rigorous and relevant research, used both to inform iterative development and to evaluate whether fully developed products show promise for leading to the intended outcomes. The program also focuses on the commercialization once the award period ends so that products can reach students and teachers, and be sustained over time.

Recently, ED/IES SBIR announced its 2015 awards. There are 21 awards in all, covering a range of topics and forms of technology. For example, Zaption is designing a mobile app to help teachers integrate video into science instruction; Speak Agent is building an app to help students with speech disabilities to communicate; and Lingo Jingo is developing a platform to help teachers guide English learners. (To view short video demos of the eight new Phase II projects, see this playlist.)

The 2015 awards highlight two trends that have emerged in the ED/IES SBIR portfolio in recent years –games for learning and bridging the research-to-practice gap in education.

Trend #1: Games for Learning

For the fourth straight year, about half of the new 2015 ED/IES SBIR awards focus on the development of game-based learning products. New projects include awards to:

  • Strange Loop Games to build a virtual world to engage students in learning about ecosystems,
  • Kiko Labs to develop mini games to strengthen young children’s thinking and memory skills, and
  • Schell Games to create a futuristic “ball and stick” molecular modeling kit and app to augment chemistry learning.

For a playlist including videos of these games and 19 others out of the ED/IES SBIR program, see here.

The games for learning trend echoes the movement surrounding games in the field, and is highlighted by recent ED sponsored events including ED Games Week in Washington, DC, last September and the Games for Learning Summit in New York City, in April. Both events convened stakeholders to showcase games and discuss the potential barriers and opportunities for collaboration necessary to accelerate the creation of highly effective games for learning. Stay tuned for more information and initiatives on games for learning out of ED’s Office of Technology.

Trend #2: Bridging the Research-to-Practice Gap

While ED/IES SBIR is known for making awards to start-ups such as Filament Games, Sokikom, and Handhold Adaptive, the program has also made awards to firms best described as university spin-offs. These firms are designed to transfer findings from federally funded research into learning products that can be used at scale. University researchers often do not have viable pathways or capacity to transfer research-based interventions for real world use.

But with the support of the ED/IES SBIR program, we have firms bridging the research-to-practice gap.  Examples include:

  • Mindset Works, which built on results from prior research including a 2002 IES research grant, to successfully propose a 2010 ED/IES SBIR project to develop SchoolKit. This multimedia platform enables broad distribution of the growth mindset intervention which teaches students to understand that intelligence can be developed through effort and learning. SchoolKit is now in use in more than 500 schools across the country, including half the middle schools in Washington, DC.
  • Teachley, which received a 2013 ED/IES SBIR award to develop math game apps and a teacher implementation dashboard building on findings from prior research including a 2010 IES research grant. The intervention is now used in hundreds of schools around the country, and the apps have been downloaded more than 500,000 times.
  • Learning Ovations is building on two prior IES research grants in their 2014 ED/IES SBIR project. The prior IES funding supported the research team as they developed and evaluated an intervention to improve children’s reading outcomes,. This award is supporting the development of an implementation platform to enable large-scale use of this evidence-based intervention across settings. The project is scheduled to end in 2016, after which the platform will be launched.

The new ED/IES SBIR 2015 awards continue the research-to-practice trend. An award to Foundations in Learning furthers basic research from a 2013 National Science Foundation grant (NSF); an award to SimInsights builds on 2005 and 2008 IES research projects and a 2011 Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) research project; and an award to Apprendris advances a prior 2012 IES research project and  prior 2010 and 2013 NSF research projects.

Stay tuned for updates on Twitter @IESResearch and @OfficeofEdTech as ED/IES SBIR projects drive innovative forms of technology, such as games for learning, and enable the scale-up of research-based interventions for wide-scale use.

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Please send your comments and questions to IESResearch@ed.gov.

Welcome to Inside IES Research!

By Tom Brock, Commissioner, NCER and 
Joan McLaughlin, Commissioner, NCSER

 

Welcome to Inside IES Research, the official blog for the Institute’s two research centers: the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)!

We are launching the blog to open up a less formal means of communication with the education researcher, policymaker, and practitioner communities.  All NCER and NCSER employees will contribute to the blog, and we will have new postings every week.  Our goals are to share new research findings, explain our programs and services, and offer researcher perspectives on issues of importance to the education sciences.  Among the topics we will address in the near future are the following:

  • What we are learning from some of our major research investments on supporting youth with autism, and on improving reading comprehension among students in elementary, middle, and high school.

  • Profiles of early career researchers supported by NCER and NCSER, and the contributions they are making to the education sciences.

  • How the application review process works and how funding decisions are made.

  • What we learned from surveys of NCER and NCSER applicants and grantees, and how we are using this information to make improvements.

We are introducing the blog at a time of peak activity for NCER and NCSER.  We are in the final stages of making grant awards from the FY 2015 research and training grants competitions – roughly 150 grants in total – and recently announced our FY 2016 competitions. Future blogs will spotlight some of these new awards and highlight current funding opportunities.

We invite you to check in regularly, and to send your comments to IESResearch@ed.gov.