Current Projects

Translating Pivotal Response Training into Classroom Environments

Autism Intervention Research Program - Research Group

As rates of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) increase there is growing strain on public schools to provide high quality, specialized programming. Implementing such high quality, evidence-based programs with students with ASD poses a difficult problem for schools because outcome data often come from highly controlled research studies. Very little research to date has examined the effectiveness of any evidence-based ASD-specific techniques in the context of school systems. The purpose of this project is to translate an evidence-based intervention into classroom settings. The intervention, Pivotal Response Training (PRT), has been shown to be efficacious for improving communication, play and social interaction in children with ASD. Although PRT is widely used in schools, it was developed for use in one-on-one settings and effectiveness has not been tested in the classroom. In collaboration with public school special education teachers, PRT will be modified for use in the classroom, and effectiveness will be examined.

Please contact Aubyn Stahmer ( for more information.

Current Diagnostic Practices for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Diagnosing an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often complicated, as practitioners must evaluate all available information to decide where a child falls on the autism spectrum. This research project was developed to learn more about current diagnostic practices utilized by community practitioners who conduct diagnostic evaluations for children being evaluated for ASD. Community practitioners who participate in this study receive training and ongoing supervision on the use of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). The ADOS is a semi-structured, standardized assessment designed to assist practitioners in evaluating individuals for ASD. This study seeks to aid researchers in understanding more about the practices conducted in the community with regard to diagnosis and assessment of children with ASD. Results from this study may also benefit children in that valuable feedback from community practitioners can be used to develop innovative approaches for implementing standardized diagnostic and assessment methods in community settings.

Please contact Sarah Dufek ( for more information.

Integrating Structured and Naturalistic Treatment Strategies for Children with Autism

It is not well understood how Discrete Trial Training and Pivotal Response Training may be differentially effective at targeting different skill areas. It may be that naturalistic and structured teaching procedures accomplish different goals and are mutually beneficial. No studies have suggested empirically-tested methods of integrating structured and naturalistic approaches into comprehensive treatment programs. Instead, studies have compared these teaching procedures in one specific domain area without data to suggest how empirical findings transfer to other learning domains or to diverse individualized child needs. The overall goal of this research is to identify methods of tailoring comprehensive treatment programs to the individual needs of different children with autism.

Please contact Allison Cunningham ( for more information.