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Educational Interventions for Students with Autism

Peter Mundy and Ann M. Mastergeorge, Editors

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The UC Davis MIND Institute
Autism for Educators Series


This volume and the Autism for Educators series grew out of concerns raised in 2007 by Dean Harold Levine of the School of Education at UC Davis and Robert Hendren, former director of the UC Davis MIND Institute, regarding the need to foster a better integration of education and learning science. This integration was rooted in research efforts conducted at the MIND Institute on behalf of children and families affected by autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and a new emphasis area in learning and mind sciences in the School of Education. Of course, the families of the children in the Davis and Sacramento community and across the nation played a major role in raising this awareness at UC Davis. Their collective voice has been driving the national agenda as well as much of the progress in the study and treatment of autism we have realized over the past decades. Many parents deeply appreciate that progress and recognize that biomedical research may ultimately provide the key to unlocking ASD. However, they also recognize there is much to do now, through advances in education, to improve the lives of children with ASD and their families. Their vibrant efforts to raise awareness of the need for more research on education for school-age children with ASD have sent large and small ripples through our science. One of the larger effects of their advocacy includes the Institute of Education Sciences’s support for the National Center for Special Education Research specific to improving education for children with ASD. One smaller effect, but hopefully a significant one, was the development of this book. With this and subsequent volumes we hope to communicate the progress and challenges we face as more concerted national research efforts are targeted toward advancing education for children with ASD. Thus in many ways the parents who never stop encouraging the world to take notice of and help their children are the genesis of this book. We’d like to acknowledge their seminal contribution to this volume and to all of the sciences of ASD. Close behind the voices of parents have been the tremendously articulate efforts of the authors of the truly state-of-the-art chapters herein. Heartfelt appreciation is also extended to our publishers at Jossey-Bass, Marjorie McAneny, Tracy Gallagher, and Justin Frahm, who have taken the time to scaffold and shape the development of this book in numerous constructive and perceptive ways. Last but not least we sincerely recognize the tremendous support and encouragement received from the administration of the UC Davis MIND Institute and School of Education at every step of this project.

Peter Mundy and Ann Mastergeorge


Peter Mundy, PhD, is a developmental and clinical psychologist who has been working on defining the nature of autism for the past thirty years. He has published over a hundred empirical and theory papers on the nature of the development of social attention and social cognition in children with autism and children with typical development. His efforts in this regard began in 1981 at UCLA, where his work with collaborator Marian Sigman contributed to the current understanding that joint attention impairments are a fundamental feature of the social deficits of children with autism. This work has contributed to significant advances in both diagnostic and intervention methods for young children with autism. He currently is the Lisa Capps Professor of Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Education at the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and School of Education. He is also the Director of Educational Research at the MIND Institute. In the last ten years Dr. Mundy has also begun a program of research designed to advance the understanding and treatment of problems in learning, social, and emotional development in higher-functioning children with autism. In 2006 he began a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)–supported program of ?research devoted to understanding neurocognitive, motivational, and social processes that affect individual differences in the expression and outcomes of autism in school-age children. In 2009 NIMH awarded funding to enable his research group at UC Davis to develop a multidisciplinary virtual reality laboratory for research on the role of social attention in the social learning disabilities of school-age children with autism. This laboratory is a joint venture of the faculties of the UC Davis MIND Institute, the Center for Mind and Brain, and the UC Davis School of Education, as well as researchers at Stanford University and the University of Southern California.

Ann Mastergeorge, PhD, is a developmental and educational psychologist who has been working in the area of education and developmental disabilities for the past twenty years. She has published in the areas of early intervention, autism, and classroom inclusion for students with disabilities. Over the past several years, Dr. Mastergeorge has focused her research program in the areas of ?parent-mediated early intervention for young children at risk and young children with autism and interventions related to social communication and joint attention. Her collaborations have been funded by the National Institutes of Health, NIMH, the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, the U.S. Department?of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of Education, and the Institute of Education Sciences. She is currently an investigator on the Autism Phenome Project at the MIND Institute, studying the behavioral phenotypes of autism, and an investigator at the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. She is a faculty member of the MIND Institute at the UC Davis Medical Center, and is currently an associate professor at the University of Arizona in Family Studies and Human Development, and chair of the Early Childhood Initiative in prevention, early intervention, risk, and disabilities at the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families.


The UC Davis MIND Institute is an internationally known research organization committed to excellence, collaboration, and hope, striving to understand the causes of and develop better treatments for neurodevelopmental disorders, starting with autism. Through their education division, the MIND Institute strives to deliver the latest in cutting-edge research and evidence-based practices to special educators, parents, and others working with children with autism.



Marianne L. Barton, PhD, is associate clinical professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut (UCONN), in Storrs. She is also director of clinical training for the clinical psychology program at UCONN and director of the Psychological Services Clinic. Dr. Barton’s research interests focus on the early detection of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), the identification of varied developmental trajectories in children with autism, and the identification of early social deficits. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist whose interests include the diagnosis and assessment of ASD as well as early developmental psychopathology and the development of attachment relationships in early childhood.

Robyn M. Catagnus, EdD, BCBA-D, is adjunct professor of education at Arcadia University, with additional adjunct experience at Temple University. She holds degrees in psychology (BS); curriculum, instruction, and technology in education (MSEd); and special education (EdD). She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst with extensive expertise in autism, behavior disorders, and positive behavioral support. As founder and former owner of a special education services agency, she clinically supervised cases, developed staff training programs, and conducted regular workshops and training events. Her current work includes the use of the Internet for distance education supervision, online course development, and instruction in Arcadia University’s Autism Certification and Behavior Analysis Certification programs. Her research interests include classwide interventions, action research, online professional development of teachers, e-collaboration for education and behavioral health teams, and staff performance. She currently works as vice president of professional development at Rethink Autism, an educational technology company serving families and professionals worldwide.

Jenna K. Chin, MEd, is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in school psychology at UC Santa Barbara. She has worked with children with autism in various settings, including public schools, homes, and partial hospitalization programs, in which she has gained experience in behavioral therapy, counseling, assessment, and parent education. Ms. Chin enjoys working with children with behavior, emotional, and developmental problems, and their teachers and families. Ms. Chin’s research interests include school-based mental health, early intervention, and family and cultural influences. Consequently she has been involved with research projects for First 5 Santa Barbara, Project ACT Early: Advancing the Competencies of Teachers for Early Behavioral Interventions of At-Risk Children, and schoolwide positive behavioral support initiatives in the Santa Barbara School District.

Deborah Fein, PhD, is a clinical neuropsychologist who has been doing autism research for thirty-five years at Boston University School of Medicine and at the University of Connecticut. She is currently Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut. She has investigated numerous topics in the area of autism, including biochemical abnormalities, brain waves, language and memory, cognitive skills, sensory abnormalities, outcomes, early detection and screening, recovery from autism, and theoretical issues concerning diagnosis. She has published many articles and chapters, mostly on autism, and she is the coauthor of a book for teachers, Autism in Your Classroom (2007), as well as a widely used screening tool—the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers. She served on the board of directors of the American Association for Clinical Neuropsychology, was secretary of the International Society for Autism Research, and is currently on the science advisory board of Autism Speaks. She is also the associate editor of the journal Neuropsychology.

Ellen L. Franzone, MS, CCC-SLP, earned her undergraduate degree in speech and hearing science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and went on to receive her MS in speech and language pathology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998. Prior to joining the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, Ms. Franzone worked as a speech and language pathologist with children from birth to age twelve and their families. Ms. Franzone has worked with students with ASD and their families at pivotal life moments: prior to and at the time of diagnosis, at the transition to school-based services, and at the transition to middle school. She is particularly interested in ensuring that all students receive programming that takes their individual strengths, needs, and personalities into account. She has worked to develop programs that allow students with disabilities to participate meaningfully in their school and community. Ms. Franzone is thrilled to participate in work that allows her to balance her professional life with her family life.

Cynthia M. Herr, PhD, is an assistant professor and research associate in special education at the University of Oregon. She has directed and taught in personnel preparation programs in special education for over twenty-five years. She currently directs a grant-funded personnel preparation program in autism. Dr. Herr has taught children and adults with a wide variety of disabilities in elementary school and community college, and at the University of Oregon, during her thirty-seven years in special education. Dr. Herr is a nationally recognized author and expert in special education law. She has consulted with school districts and has also served as an advocate for parents of children with disabilities. She has conducted workshops on individualized education program development as well as social skills training for community agencies. Dr. Herr has published in the areas of special education law, autism, and secondary transition.

Brooke Ingersoll, PhD, is an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Michigan State University (MSU), where she directs MSU’s Autism Research Laboratory. Dr. Ingersoll’s research and publications are focused on the development of social communication skills in young children with ASD, with an emphasis on intervention. Dr. Ingersoll has published a parent training curriculum for families of children with ASD and is the principal investigator of a Department of Defense–funded research grant that is developing a parent training program for families of children with ASD that can be delivered remotely via the Internet.

Brittany L. Koegel, MA, is a doctoral student at UC Santa Barbara, with an emphasis in special education and developmental disabilities risk studies. Her interests are socialization skills for young adults with Asperger syndrome and academic motivation for children with autism.

Lynn Kern Koegel, PhD, the clinical director of autism services in the UCSB Koegel Autism Center and the director of the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Center for Asperger Research, has been active in the development of programs to improve communication in children with autism, including the development of first words, grammatical structures, pragmatics, and social conversation. In addition to her published books and articles in the area of communication and language development, she has developed and published procedures and field manuals in the area of self-management and functional analysis that are used in school districts and by parents throughout the United States, as well as translated into other major languages. Dr. Lynn Koegel is the author of Overcoming Autism (2004) and, most recently, Growing Up on the Spectrum (2010, with parent Claire LaZebnik), available in most bookstores.

Robert L. Koegel, PhD, has focused his career in the area of autism, specializing in language intervention, family support, and school integration. He has published over two hundred articles and papers relating to the treatment of autism. He is presently editing two books on the treatment of autism and positive behavioral support, and is the editor of the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. Models of his procedures have been used in public schools and in parent education programs throughout California, the United States, and other countries. He has trained many health care and special education leaders in the United States and abroad.

The Koegels are the developers of pivotal response treatment, which focuses on motivation. They were the recipients of the first annual Children’s Television Workshop Sesame Street Award for “Brightening the Lives of Children” and the first annual Autism Speaks award for “Science and Research.” In addition, Dr. Lynn Koegel appeared on ABC’s hit show Supernanny, working with a child with autism. UC Santa Barbara received a $2.35 million gift to expand the physical space of the UCSB Autism Research Center, which was renamed the UCSB Koegel Autism Center in recognition of the Koegels’ work on behalf of children with autism, and a large gift from the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Foundation to start the Center for Asperger Research, which is now part of the UCSB Koegel Autism Center.

Suzanne Kucharczyk, EdD, coordinates the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill site of the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Dr. Kucharczyk began her work with children with autism and their families in elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms. Suzanne has continued to work closely with classrooms as she has moved to work at the program, school, and other organizational levels. Over the years her work has focused on the professional development of education providers and the development of organizational supports for the implementation of effective practices. She received her EdD from Teachers College, Columbia University, in adult learning and leadership and her BA and MA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in special education and educational policy studies. Her dissertation study explored how schools are implementing an inclusive education program for children with autism that involves organizational learning and knowledge sharing.

Wendy Machalicek, PhD, BCBA-D, is an assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her scholarship focuses on the assessment and treatment of challenging behavior in children with autism and related developmental disabilities. Her research emphasizes the development of novel ways to support and educate parents and teachers of these children to teach appropriate communication, social, play, and functional life skills. To date, Dr. Machalicek has authored or coauthored thirty-two peer-reviewed research articles and four book chapters.

Nancy S. McIntyre, BS, MSTC, is a doctoral student in the learning and mind sciences at the School of Education at UC Davis. Over the past twenty years she has worked with a wide variety of students from preschool through high school. Ms. McIntyre is currently involved in research in the Social Attention Virtual Reality Lab at the UC Davis MIND Institute. Her main research interest is the academic achievement, particularly reading comprehension development, of school-age children with autism and its relationship to their developmental differences.

Jamie Pagliaro, MBA, is executive vice president and cocreator of Rethink Autism, an educational technology company headquartered in New York City. He has spent the past fifteen years working in homes, schools, and clinical settings serving individuals with autism and severe behavior disorders. Prior to Rethink Autism, Mr. Pagliaro was founding executive director of the New York Center for Autism Charter School. The school has received national recognition as a model public program. At Rethink Autism he oversees all content and product development, and collaborates extensively with public school systems implementing the company’s Web-based technology. Mr. Pagliaro earned a BA with honors in psychology from Wesleyan University and an MBA from Villanova University. He also volunteers and serves as board chair for the national nonprofit Music for Autism.

Sarah R. Reed, MA, is a doctoral student in the Autism Intervention Research Program at UC San Diego and Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego. Her research focuses on the implementation of evidence-based treatments in community environments and how to optimally translate intervention research across service delivery settings. Ms. Reed is particularly interested in examining intervention implementation with groups of students, as this is the service reality for many community settings. On a clinical level, she has extensive experience implementing naturalistic behavioral interventions with children with autism as well as providing training to parents, clinicians, and students in these methods.

Laura Schreibman, PhD, is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at UC San Diego, where she has been on the faculty since 1984. She earned her PhD at UCLA, where she focused on the field of behavior analysis and treatment of childhood autism. She currently directs the federally funded UC San Diego Autism Intervention Research Program, which focuses on the experimental analysis and treatment of autism. She is a codeveloper of pivotal response treatment, an empirically validated naturalistic behavioral intervention. Her general research interests include the development and investigation of naturalistic behavioral intervention strategies, the development of individualized treatment protocols, translation of empirically based treatments into school settings (classroom pivotal response treatment), generalization of behavior change, parent training, and issues of assessment. She is the author or coauthor of four books and over 150 research articles and book chapters. Her latest books are The Science and Fiction of Autism (2005) and Classroom Pivotal Response Teaching (CPRT): A Guide to Effective Implementation (2011).

Aubyn C. Stahmer, PhD, is the research director of the Autism Discovery Institute at Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego and a research scientist at the Rady Hospital Child and Adolescent Services Research Center of UC San Diego. She has conducted clinical and research programs in the area of autism for the past fifteen years. She has published many scholarly articles on inclusion and early intervention services for children with autism and leads two grants examining collaborative adaptation and implementation of interventions for children with autism in community programs. Her current interests include the study of early intervention systems for children with autism and the translation of evidence-based practices in community settings, including schools.

Jessica Suhrheinrich, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher at UC San Diego and the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center at Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego. Her primary area of research involves examining the use of evidence-based practices for children with autism in school settings and improving the quality and availability of training for teachers of children with autism. Prior to undertaking her graduate work in experimental psychology, Dr. Suhrheinrich was a classroom teacher herself, and she has firsthand understanding of the barriers to translation of evidence-based practices to classroom settings.

Lisa Sullivan, PhD, is the project coordinator for the National Professional Development Center at the MIND Institute at UC Davis. Dr. Sullivan recently completed the doctoral program in learning and mind sciences at the School of Education at UC Davis. Her dissertation research examined the role of joint attention in learning and school readiness. Dr. Sullivan’s research also includes a year-long study on the impact of an autism training program on teacher practice and competency. She is a former classroom teacher specializing in using cooperative learning groups. She was a Teacher Education Fellow at UC Davis, supervising middle school teachers in the credential program. Her main area of interest is in working with educators to translate research into practice that will improve student outcomes.

Kate Szidon, MS, is a graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Ms. Szidon earned her MS in special education from the University of Oregon’s Specialized Training Program in transition in 1996. Following her certification program, Ms. Szidon taught for twelve years in the state of Oregon. Her experiences in special education include providing technical assistance and support to a medium-size school district. She was also a special education teacher in a variety of settings and roles including high school transition coordinator, autism teacher for both elementary and middle school, and reading and math support teacher for all levels of school-age students. Ms. Szidon joined the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders at the University of North Carolina in summer 2009. She has worked with students with ASD as a classroom teacher, transition coach, and camp leader. Her work interests include program development in autism, transition, applied behavior analysis, and functional behavior assessment. She is excited to be able to participate in a project that is focused on improving school outcomes for students with autism.

Bridget A. Taylor, PsyD, BCBA-D, is cofounder and executive director of Alpine Learning Group and senior clinical adviser for Rethink Autism. She has specialized in the education and treatment of children with autism for the past twenty-five years. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and a licensed psychologist. Dr. Taylor is active in the autism research community and has published numerous articles on effective interventions for individuals with autism. She serves on several editorial boards for journals including the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Behavioral Interventions, and Behavior Analysis in Practice. She is also a member of the Autism Advisory Group for the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, is a board member of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment, and serves on the professional advisory board for the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts.

Allison Wainer, MA, is a graduate student at Michigan State University, working toward a PhD in clinical psychology. Her most recent research has focused on the use of technology to disseminate training in evidence-based intervention techniques. Her additional research interests include early autism intervention, parent training, and the broader autism phenotype.


The past three decades have witnessed tremendous changes in how we think about autism and the ways in which we provide services for children affected by autism and their families. Once thought to be a rare disorder, autism as we now know occurs in 1 out of every 110 children. This dramatic increase in prevalence is at least partly due to improvements in the instruments available for the identification and diagnosis of children with autism. It is also due, however, to the recognition that the expression of autism varies greatly among children. As Lorna Wing recognized nearly thirty years ago, autism can be expressed as aloof withdrawal in some children but as a tendency to display active but unusual patterns of social engagement in others. In addition, about 40 percent of children with autism are affected by intellectual disabilities, whereas 60 percent have average to above-average intellectual abilities. So we now understand that children with autism present with a heterogeneous array of symptoms—and that the causes of autism may be equally varied. To recognize this fundamental point, we now refer to the autism spectrum of disorders.

In terms of services for individuals on the autism spectrum, considerable progress has been made with respect to interventions for preschool children. Thirty years ago many scientists and clinicians believed effective treatments were not possible for children with autism. However, as we have come to understand more about the nature, causes, and consequences of autism, we also have begun to develop effective interventions that target the social, cognitive, and behavior problems that impede learning and development in many children during the preschool years. Recent, carefully controlled studies of intervention effectiveness suggest that behavioral and developmental approaches to early intervention with two- to five-year-olds can, at a minimum, decrease the risk for intellectual disability in childhood for many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Here at the MIND Institute we are extremely proud to be conducting research that is on the cutting edge of improving early intervention services for children with autism. However, we also realize that early intervention is only the beginning of what we need to do to optimize the development of children with ASD. Indeed, there is a pressing need to improve intervention services for school-age children on the autism spectrum. To that end, the MIND Institute has developed a strategic partnership with the UC Davis School of Education to advance education for school-age children with autism. The book you hold in your hands is the first tangible product of that partnership. It reflects the expertise of scientists and educators who are engaged in the next wave of research on autism spectrum disorders. This book is designed to advance the national discussion and research agenda and—most important—to raise educational methods for school-age children with ASD to a level comparable to the achievements evident in recent work with preschool children. Of course, one book alone cannot accomplish this goal, but it does represent an important beginning. I applaud the editors and contributors of this work for taking on the challenge and moving us forward in ways that will benefit individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families.

October 2011 Leonard Abbeduto, PhD
Director, MIND Institute
Tsakopoulos-Vismara Endowed Chair,
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences,
UC Davis School of Medicine
Sacramento, California

The Educational Needs of Children with Autism