Skip to main content

Team including Kara Hume wins $3.3 million autism research grant

Project will study educational interventions for students with autism

A team that includes School of Education faculty member Kara Hume has won a $3.3 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences to study educational interventions for students with autism.

The five-year project includes a $1.3 million allotment that will support Hume’s portion of the project, which will focus on measuring the effectiveness of interventions that support high school students with autism in North Carolina.

The project will examine the effectiveness of a learning intervention that combines two approaches that have been studied by autism researchers — the “Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction” (SDLMI) and peer supports. Both approaches have been studied independently and have shown to be effective in supporting learning among students with autism spectrum disorders in general education classrooms.

“Each approach has shown impact on improving skills in certain areas, but there remain some challenges for these students as they navigate high school and beyond,” said Hume, who is a co-principal investigator on the project. “What we hope to learn through this project is whether combining the approaches can be more effective in improving outcomes while students are in high school and in their lives after high school.”

Karrie Shogren, director of the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities, is the principal investigator. Brian Boyd, also of the University of Kansas, is another co-PI.

Two interventions
The Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction incorporates principles of self-determination and student-directed learning in an instructional model that focuses on helping students learn and apply strategies such as self-monitoring, goal-setting, and planning.

Shogren and other researchers have studied using SDLMI with students with ASD, finding that the intervention is effective in helping the students set and reach goals, and reach higher attainment in general education classes.

Hume and her team have studied the importance of peer relationships in supporting students with autism spectrum disorders, finding that they make important contributions to adolescent development, well-being, and successful transitions. Students with autism spectrum disorders often have difficulty in social interactions and establishing and maintaining peer relationships.

The team expects that actively teaching and engaging students with ASD in the process of selecting goals for building peer relationships will help those students build and maintain relationships.

Studying the combination
The team will seek to study the approaches in schools in North Carolina and Kansas that support at least 10 to 12 high school students with ASD who are in core content instruction in general education classrooms. The team expects to have 36 high schools and approximately 432 students with autism spectrum disorders in the study.

The schools will be randomly assigned to use either 1) peer supports only, 2) SDLMI only, and 3) peer supports in combination with SDLMI.

The first year of the project will involve establishing partnerships with schools and providing initial training of teachers on how to implement the SDLMI and peer supports interventions. Implementation of the interventions will begin in the second year of the project, continuing through the third and fourth years. Follow-up data collection, measuring the effectiveness of the interventions among students, and analysis of the data will continue in the fifth year.

Hume, a leading autism researcher
Hume, an associate professor at Carolina’s School of Education and a faculty fellow at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, has worked with children and young adults on the autism spectrum for almost 30 years in a variety of capacities, including as a home program therapist, teacher, trainer, consultant, and researcher.

She was co-principal investigator of the Center on Secondary Education for Students with ASD (CSESA), funded by the Institute for Education Sciences to work with high schools, families, adolescents with ASD, and others to improve high school experiences for people on the autism spectrum. She is currently funded to follow-up with these students several years after high school to learn more about their engagement in postsecondary education, employment, and community activities.

She has been a principal investigator or co-principal investigator in projects that have received more than $15 million in funding.

Hume also has published more than 40 manuscripts and has led two of the largest studies to date examining the efficacy of school-based interventions for students with autism. She is a co-editor of the recently published “SAGE Handbook on Autism and Education.”

The grant was one of 88 totaling $156 million in funding for educational research announced this month by IES, including research in special education supported by IES’s National Center for Special Education Research.