Develop a long-distance training program to teach rural parents effective treatments for autism

Develop a long-distance training program to teach rural parents effective treatments for autism

In 2004, LSI scientists Linda Heitzman-Powell, a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst, and Jay Buzhardt, a researcher who employs technology to help make evidence-based practices accessible to rural parents and others, had the bold idea of training parents of children with autism to use applied behavior analysis (ABA) to help them increase their children’s independent skills and reduce problem behaviors.

What’s more, the training would be rigorous and it would be long-distance: coaching via live interactive television along with online educational modules covering the concepts and principles of ABA, the most effective treatment currently available for children with autism.

“Autism Spectrum Disorders, now estimated to affect one in 50 children, are as common in rural America as they are in urban America,” said Heitzman-Powell, “but ABA-trained professionals are much rarer in rural communities.”

The initial evaluation of the Online and Applied System for Intervention Skills (OASIS) with close to 40 families across Kansas showed that parents learned and retained skills as precise as collecting and analyzing data and how to use it for making decisions.

“Pre- and post-test results on knowledge and using skills was impressive as was parent satisfaction, said Heitzman-Powell.

Best of all, OASIS will continue past the end of the research project: the Center for Child Health and Development at KUMC has begun offering OASIS as a clinical service.

Further, the KU team is translating and adapting OASIS for the Hispanic population and researchers from Poland and Italy have expressed interest in translating the training program.

The researchers are evaluating the short and long-term impact of the strategies parents learned through OASIS on their children’s language and social skill development. ey will also assess the long-term effects on the families and children from their initial study.

As to the importance of OASIS, Heitzman-Powell notes that approximately half of children with ASD who are diagnosed early and receive appropriate treatment will mainstream in a public school setting without an aide. “But without appropriate treatment, only two percent will achieve this level of success,” she said.