IDENTIFICATION OF AUTISM IS ON THE RISE, and there is much debate about the causes and treatment effectiveness of contemporary and historically-focused therapies. A team of USC researchers will design, implement and conduct research on an innovative educational toolkit that provides information on cutting edge research and interventions for children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The collaborative research team from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, Rossier School of Education, and Keck School of Medicine is working on an interactive media tool that can be used to provide training, information and resources about ASD for diverse practitioners including physicians, teachers, therapists, and families. Principal Investigator Dr. Mark Harris and Co-Investigators Dr. Gisele Ragusa, Dr. Marsha Kinder, and Dr. Michael Cody have teamed up with national experts on autism spectrum disorders, as well as practitioners, parents, and teachers from across the country, to engage in this compelling, interdisciplinary, largescale research endeavor. It is through its interdisciplinary nature that the team is able to engage in clinical translation of research to practice using innovative technological foci combined with highquality content with important societal relevance.
The project is in its first year of operation, and has received funding from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Outcomes and Evidence of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to produce and quantitatively test and evaluate the impact of innovative adaptations of comparative effectiveness research (CER) products and disseminate them to the described diverse audiences. Once the product, which is considered a kit of research “interventions,” is developed, the research team will use “stealth” assessment procedures to assess its components’ efficacy and impacts on the populations with which it will be utilized. A randomized controlled trial will be conducted with approximately 15,350 diverse participants to test the diverse components of the multimedia toolkit. This multimedia toolkit will be interactive, and will include video footage of cutting-edge research on ASD, contemporary media-based examples of treatment options, videos of interviews with researchers, practitioners, families and individuals with autism, in addition to helpful information about research on ASD.
Research indicates that the incidence of ASD may be as common as 1 in 100, with males affected four times as often as females. Symptoms persist throughout life, disrupt families and lead to significant disability, such that ASD is a major public health problem that costs society upwards of $35 billion in medical/nonmedical costs. Use of psychoactive medication has made a significant contribution to the clinical care of children and adolescents with ASD. Three large-scale randomized trials have been completed; two of these trials examined the efficacy and safety of the antipsychotic medication, risperidone. Psychosocial interventions utilized in ASD are based on the theory and practice of applied behavior analysis and developmental science. Discrete trial training, based on operant discrimination learning, is the earliest form of this intervention for children with ASD. While efficacious, this training is expensive and may lack the flexibility needed for application in schools with more limited resources. Researchers have remedied some of its limitations by developing less structured, more naturalistic programming for individual and group settings.
There is a critical need for more accurate and wider dissemination of information on these and other ASD treatments. The void has been filled by intense media attention on unfounded theories of causation and corollary treatments; consequently, considerable misinformation has been disseminated. In order to correct these misperceptions and increase the impact and effective use of AHRQ CER products in our multimedia kit, the research team will target audiences, stakeholders, systems and settings not already specifically targeted or reached that are significantly important for individuals with ASD.
The innovation of this multimedia tool comes from its design flexibility, theoretical soundness, previously untried approach, and broad accessibility by diverse groups. It will be available on computers, cell phones and by other portably available technology devices for broad usage.
Rossier REACH is a quarterly publication focused on the recent research of Rossier School of Education scholars.