Institute for Autism Research receives grant from Tower Foundation

BUFFALO, NY - The Institute for Autism Research (IAR) at Canisius College received a $359,000 grant from the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation to fund three critical and timely studies to improve the outcomes of children with high functioning autism spectrum disorders (HFASDs).

“Canisius is extremely grateful to the Tower Foundation for their generosity, interest and continued support of the college,” said Richard A. Wall, PhD, interim vice president for academic affairs. “This grant will allow the IAR to expand their innovative research and treatment programs for children on the autism spectrum.”

According to Nick Randell, program officer at the Tower Foundation, “The proposed areas of study by the IAR coincide with our Foundation’s strategic goals to increase the likelihood that children with developmental disabilities are engaged in meaningful social and educational pursuits, and that families have increased options in obtaining evidenced-based treatments.”

Children with HFASDs exhibit significant difficulty with social functioning as a result of core deficits in their social interaction skills and have a tendency to engage in restricted, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors and interests. The cumulative effect of these deficits appears to contribute to children with HFASDs being withdrawn, depressed and anxious, and less skilled in adaptive behaviors than their typically-developing peers.

With funding from the Tower Foundation, the IAR will collaborate with Autism Services, Inc., a non-profit community agency that serves individuals with autism spectrum disorders in Western New York, to conduct a community replication of the IAR’s summerMAX program. This program was the first comprehensive summer psychosocial treatment program specifically for children with HFASDs to be proven effective in two randomized clinical trials.

According to Marcus Thomeer, PhD, co-director of IAR and principal investigator on the Tower grant, “Children who participated in summerMAX exhibited significantly better social performance and knowledge of appropriate social behaviors compared to children who did not receive treatment, and they also maintained social gains beyond the program.”

Following completion of the community replication trial, the Tower Foundation grant will fund the development of a training protocol for disseminating the summerMAX program nationally to community agencies, and for certifying future community providers in the implementation of the manualized protocol in their communities. “The IAR is committed to improving the outcomes of children with HFASDs by making empirically validated treatments available to community agencies and families across the country,” says Christopher Lopata, PsyD, co-director of the IAR and co-principal investigator on the Tower grant.

The Tower Foundation grant will also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of an outpatient model of the validated summerMAX program. This outpatient afterschool social development program, entitled MAXout, will provide families with another comprehensive psychosocial treatment option for 7 – 12 year old children with HFASDs during the school year. Like the summer program, MAXout will address social skills, interest expansion, interpretation of non-literal language, and face and emotion recognition deficits.

Established in 2009, the IAR was created at Canisius to continue leading-edge research on autism spectrum disorders. Housed in the college’s newly-opened Science Hall, the Institute provides researchers and affiliated faculty the facilities necessary to study and treat autism spectrum disorders in a collaborative manner. The IAR is dedicated to better understanding autism and enhancing the lives of affected children.

“In the end, all of our efforts are undertaken to improve the lives of both children with HFASDs and their families,” added Thomeer. “All of our work is undertaken with this goal in mind.”

For more information about these projects and to learn more about the IAR at Canisius call (716) 888-2800 or visit www.canisius.edu/iar.

One of 28 Jesuit universities in the nation, Canisius is the premier private university in Western New York