As part of a commitment to improving the lives of individuals with ASD, Aspect undertakes research and evaluation to inform the continuous improvement of its services, programs and approaches to intervention. Aspect additionally partners with universities and other external organisations to conduct broader-based research within the autism field.
This section presents a summary of research projects currently ongoing at Aspect and recently completed.
Unearthing the experiences of young people with autism
Aspect recently announced the launch of new research to explore the life experiences and support needs of adolescents with high functioning autism and Asperger’s disorder.
The primary goals of the Aspect research project are to raise awareness and to improve the kinds of services and supports available for Australian adolescents who have an ASD but do not have an intellectual disability.
Aspect researchers have developed questionnaires for adolescents, aged 12-17 with a diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder or high functioning autism and parents of a 12-17 year old with Asperger's disorder or high functioning autism. The questionnaires cover life experiences including questions about their health, experiences at school, friendships, and daily life. We would like to invite participants to contribute to this research by completing an anonymous questionnaire. Participants will have the opportunity to tell us about their hopes and plans for the future, and about the supports that adolescents with Asperger's disorder and high functioning autism need to achieve their goals.
Cick here to find out more or to take part.
The efficacy of models for educational service delivery for students with autism spectrum disorders
Aspect is the industry partner for a Linkage Project funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and led by the Macquarie University Special Education Centre (MUSEC). The research is seeking to compare educational and social outcomes for students with ASD who are being supported under two different service delivery models:
1. The Aspect ‘satellite class’ system (operating selectively in NSW), whereby students are placed in autism-specific support classes located in mainstream ‘host’ schools and staffed by Aspect teachers. Satellite class programs incorporate individual education goals within a framework based on the regular school curriculum and a carefully planned schedule of integrated activities. Satellite classes are intended to function as a ‘springboard’ into an eventual full-time mainstream educational placement, and supported transition is therefore a key focus of the satellite class program.
2. The ‘outreach’ model operated by Autism SA, in which a multidisciplinary team provides support services to students with ASD and their teachers in mainstream education settings. These teams combine the expertise of educators, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, and school support officers. Services provided under the SA model include consultancy, specialist advice and training for school staff; development of individualised educational plans; specific therapeutic assessment and intervention services; and time-limited direct student support.
Over a period of three years, the research team will collect and compare data for 40 students enrolled in the Aspect satellite class program and 40 students receiving support under the SA outreach model. Data collection methods will include observations, questionnaires, and interviews with parents, teachers and school principals.
The primary outcome factors being investigated in the study are social behaviour, school engagement and adjustment for students within each of the educational programs. Academic progress will constitute a secondary variable. Parents and school staff will be questioned about their satisfaction with service delivery by Aspect or Autism SA, and their perceptions of the success of inclusive educational placements.
The research is ongoing until the end of 2014.
‘We Belong’: Investigating the experiences, aspirations and needs of adults with Asperger’s Disorder and high functioning autism
‘We Belong’ is the first large-scale study in Australia to describe the life experiences, aspirations and support needs of adults who have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with no co-occurring intellectual disability.
The central focus of the ‘We Belong’ study was a detailed survey exploring the health, education, work, social, community and daily living experiences of adults with Asperger’s Disorder (AD) and high functioning autism (HFA). Over 300 adults Australia-wide participated in the survey. Additional information was gathered via a survey of 200 parents of adults with AD and HFA, and from telephone interviews with 20 service providers across the healthcare, education, employment and disability service domains.
Currently in its data analysis phase, the key messages emerging from this study are that adults with AD and HFA have the same aspirations as other Australians to social and learning achievements during their school years, to fulfilling employment, to emotional well-being, and to a range of successful social relationships. At present, this group faces significant personal and professional barriers to achieving their goals; caught in spirals of social isolation, poor mental health, over-dependence on family support, and a failure to meet their full potential as intelligent and active members of society.
A full research report will be released in the second half of 2012. Click here for summary report.
Using iPads to facilitate learning, communication, social skills and positive behaviour in children with autism
In recent years there has been a growing interest in the capacity of personal tablet computers, such as iPads, to develop the communication and social skills of children and adults with ASD through the use of specially designed interactive applications (apps).
One of the most popular communication apps available to iPad users is Proloquo2Go. This program offers a range of vocabulary and a comprehensive symbol set from which phrases and sentences can be constructed, visually modelled, and ‘spoken aloud’ by the computer.
Aspect recently completed a trial of Proloquo2Go with 16 of its students, aged from four to nine years. A speech pathologist worked with classroom teachers to model aided language simulation techniques using Proloquo2Go during natural communication opportunities and routine class activities. The intervention resulted in 63 per cent of students’ existing communication goals being achieved at a level that was higher or much higher than expected. All participants developed the skills to functionally communicate with the iPad, and all teachers regarded Proloquo2Go as being useful or somewhat useful to develop communication skills.
Aspect is extending this research with a new study that will investigate the effectiveness of five selected apps to develop expressive language, social skills, positive behaviour and independence with around 40 Aspect students. Progress and change will be measured after one term, using a range of communication and social skills assessment tools. Following the intervention, students will have the opportunity to provide feedback via an interactive questionnaire on their experiences of using the technology. Teachers and parents will also be interviewed at the start and end of the study to discuss their perceptions of the study, its progress and feasibility.
Evaluation of the Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP) program
The Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP) program is designed to develop symbolic communication for individuals with ASD through the use of a high-tech alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) device. These devices are loaded with Minspeak software, which delivers text and voice output in response to specific keystroke sequences on a visual interface.
The system is based on a relatively small set of key vocabulary items, underpinned by rules and patterns that allow a wide range of sequences, phrases and sentences to be constructed around these items.
Aside from the unique use of the high-tech AAC device, the LAMP program incorporates many elements that are proven methods for increasing the communication of children with autism, including:
• following the child’s lead;
• providing therapy when the child is in the optimal arousal zone;
• creating an opportunity for communication;
• establishing an interaction;
• having a consequence for communication.
In 2010-11, Aspect conducted a small-scale pilot evaluation of the LAMP program involving three of its students. The study results indicated that, when employed in a structured speech pathology context, LAMP can lead to rapid and sustained increases in symbolic communication and in length of individual utterances for children with ASD.
The LAMP evaluation is currently being replicated and expanded with a group of nine Aspect students. In addition to gathering data on students’ functional communication skills pre- and post-intervention, the researchers will be interviewing parents and teachers for their views on how the LAMP program has impacted their child’s or student’s skill level and emotional well-being. Parents and teachers will also be provided with suggested structured activities to maintain the child’s use of the AAC device in between intervention sessions.
Evaluation of the Secret Agent Society social skills training program
Aspect is the industry partner for a second ARC-funded Linkage Project, investigating the efficacy of a computer-based social skills training program called Secret Agent Society for young people with ASD.
The Secret Agent Society program comprises a range of educational activities, including a multi-level computer game, board game, walkie-talkie game, card games, and a workbook. Children are taught how to identify simple and complex emotions in themselves and others, using face, body, voice and environmental clues. From this foundation, children are supported to develop their skills in emotion regulation, problem solving, talking and playing with others, coping with making mistakes, trying new things, and dealing with teasing and bullying.
The program is designed to be delivered across nine weekly small group sessions. To optimise the generalisation of skills learnt, participants are required to complete, with their parents’ help, additional weekly ‘home missions’ that involve applying knowledge of emotions to real-life scenarios. The program package also includes four parent training sessions, teacher tip sheets, and three-month and six-month booster sessions.
The evaluation involves conducting baseline and 12-month follow-up social cognition and behaviour assessments with the participating children, and collecting parent and teacher feedback at six and 12 months post intervention.
As of mid-2012, the Secret Agent Society program had been delivered to 72 students at a total of five Aspect schools, with booster sessions and follow-up assessments at various stages of completion across the five sites. Data analysis of pre- and post-treatment data will get underway in the second half of 2012.