“The IAR is a leading center for innovative research and treatment programs for children on the autism spectrum,” said Dr. Richard A. Wall, interim vice president for academic affairs. “The new funding will allow the Institute to significantly expand on this and, at the same time, further the applied learning experiences and academic programming opportunities already available to undergraduate and graduate students. Canisius is grateful to the IES for its tremendous support.”
The Institute for Autism Research has had a home at Canisius College since 2009, but the study has been led by Dr. Christopher Lopata and Dr. Marcus L. Thomeer — co-founders and co-directors of the institute — for 11 years.
The schoolMAX program is the third phase in what is ultimately planned to be a four-phase study. The institute previously received a $1.2 million grant for the three-year second phase in the program in which they developed and did a pilot test of the comprehensive school-based intervention program for children with high-function autism spectrum disorder.
Lopata explained that as part of the summer and after-school programs, the institute developed a program to explicitly teach children between the ages of 7 and 12 years old certain skills, for example, the importance of being a good sport when interacting with peers. The children are then expected to practice said skill during therapeutic activities, say, while playing a card game.
With the additional funding, the next step is for Lopata, Thomeer and their team of research assistants from Canisius College and the University at Buffalo to take what they've tested during the summerMAX and MAXout programs and translate it into a classroom setting — the clinical trial phase of the study.
"The summer program has been shown to be highly effective, which is great, but that's not where the kids spend most of their time," Lopata said. "They spend most of their time in school so if we can yield similiar outcomes in school then we'll have something that has the capacity to be distributed across the country and have a large impact."