Institute for Autism Research Awarded $1.3 Million Grant

September 24, 2015

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BUFFALO, NY – The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Autism Research Program recently awarded a four-year, $1.3 million grant to the Institute for Autism Research (IAR) at Canisius College. Researchers at the IAR will use the grant to conduct a clinical trial of its MAXout treatment program, a unique outpatient treatment for high-functioning children with autism spectrum disorder (HFASD).

“Addressing the core social-communicative impairments and restricted and repetitive interests and behaviors of children with HFASD is complex and requires a comprehensive treatment model,” said Christopher Lopata, PsyD, one of the study’s principal investigators. “Expanding service options is essential as the number of children with HFASD has been increasing and parents need options for accessing treatment that works within their lives and daily schedules.”

The researchers have successfully treated children with HFASD in a comprehensive summer treatment (summerMAX) and a school treatment (schoolMAX) format. MAXout was developed based on the core treatment elements they have found to be highly effective.

MAXout treatment targets social skills, emotion-recognition skills, non-literal language skills, and restricted and repetitive behaviors using direct instruction, modeling, role-play, performance feedback, and behavioral reinforcement provided by staff clinicians, as well as parent training. Treatment sessions are 90-minutes each, twice per week over 18-weeks.

“This level of intensity is necessary to address the pervasive deficits of children with HFASD; other outpatient treatments for these children have yielded limited affects due to their lack of intensity,” said Marcus L. Thomeer, PhD, a principal investigator on the study.

Results of the pilot MAXout study (funded by the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation) indicated significant and large gains in the children’s social-communication skills and a reduction in their ASD symptoms, but the pilot study lacked a comparison group.

“The DoD grant provides funding to study the MAXout treatment in a randomized clinical trial, which allows for a clear determination of the effectiveness of the outpatient treatment,” noted James P. Donnelly, PhD, one of the principal investigators on the study. The four-year DoD grant will allow the researchers to compare children with HFASD who receive MAXout to children with HFASD on the waitlist.

“Designing the study with a waitlist control group ensures that all the children will have access to the MAXout treatment, while also allowing us to clearly determine the treatment’s efficacy,” said Jonathan D. Rodgers, PhD, a principal investigator on the study. A total of 88 children, ages 7-12 years, with HFASD will participate in the study over the four-year period.

“Designing treatments around a core set of components that can be provided in different delivery formats and settings is truly unique,” noted Lopata. “Establishing the effectiveness of the MAXout treatment in this clinical trial will make the MAX programs the only programs shown to be effective in outpatient, summer, and school formats for children with HFASD.”          

This work is being supported by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and the Defense Health Agency, Research, Development, and Acquisition Directorate, through the Autism Research Program, under Award No. W81XWH-15-1-0195.

For more information regarding the MAXout clinical trial and/or the Institute for Autism Research at Canisius College, visit www.Canisius.edu/iar or call the Office of Public Relations at (716) 888-2790.

Canisius College is one of 28 Jesuit colleges in the nation and the premier private college in Western New York.