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Using Research-Community Partnerships to Facilitate Implementation of Effective Intervention in Classrooms Serving Students with Autism

Thursday, 2 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
D. S. Mandell, Psychiatry, Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

Autism interventions that are proven efficacious in university-based research labs rarely are used in community practice and, when they are, often are not implemented with a high degree of fidelity are rarely achieve the same outcomes. We would argue that this discrepancy often results from the lack of research-community partnership in planning, implementation, and steps to ensure that the intervention sustains.  


To present an innovative university-school district partnership designed to increase the use of evidence-based practice for students with autism in public schools, and to increase the sensitivity of and utility for these settings that are developed in research labs.


The partnership began with two years of discussion regarding the needs of the district, potential research collaboration, and pilot evaluations. The initial focus of the partnership was on identifying and immediately addressing district needs regarding training and programming. District and research staff met regularly to discuss strategy and concerns.


These meetings and initial efforts led to a large-scale pragmatic trial in autism support classrooms, which in turn led to substantial policy and practice changes in the district. These changes are supported by an ongoing contract between the district and the research team to provide consultation and support. This ongoing relationship has resulted in mutually beneficial natural laboratory to explore practical issues regarding the implementation of evidence-based practices, what interventions and training/consultation strategies work in this large, urban setting, and new models for thinking about implementation of evidence-based practices in public schools. Some important examples include changes in the intervention model to make it highly specified and simplified for classroom implementation, measurement and the development of strategies to address implementation climate and staff relationships in the classroom and school, and the emergence of tailored consultation strategies based on the skills and motivation of the classroom staff.


This type of applied, community based research partnership requires considerable effort and trust to develop, but has important implications for public health approaches to changing community practice for students with autism.

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