Thursday, November 19, 2015

What About Research??

Research.  Should we?  Shouldn’t we?  Will it drive away potential FSL participants?  Will it make them feel like lab rats or guinea pigs once they’re in the program?  How in the world can we possibly conduct research?  These were my thoughts, and then something happened.  Dr. John McConnell and Curtis Harris happened.  I’ve mentioned Dr. McConnell in previous posts as an Assistant Professor of Research and Statistics in the College of Education, but he’s also a key player in the development of FSL. Curtis Harris, director of Advanced Behavior Consultants has also been a very valuable asset to this program from the beginning.   They have both shown me that research can be the key to a successful program, and best of all, that it’s not necessarily the participants that we have to study. 

While looking at other programs in the United States, we noticed that there’s not a lot of research taking place.  In fact, research on programs for adults with ASD in general is basically unexplored territory.  As I’ve stated in previous posts, adulthood makes up the vast majority of one’s lifespan.  It only makes sense to create programs for adults with ASD just as there are programs for children birth to 22 in the public schools.  It also makes sense, at least to our team, to research and share results so that others can build programs across the country. 

So how did we decide what to study?  We started with the basics, which we feel are retention and completion of our participants.   We’ll be keeping track of Grade Point Averages (GPAs), retention rates, and completion rates, but we do that with all students at APSU, so it’s not specific to FSL.  We then looked at what is going to make our program successful, and decided that those working with our participants and their ability to do so effectively are keys to the success of the participants.  Based on that conclusion, here are the research studies currently taking place: 

1.  Self-Efficacy Study: Mentor and tutor efficacy, or the power to produce a desired result or effect, is being measured by using an adaptation of a teacher efficacy scale.  We are seeking to measure the effects of mentor and tutor training, which they all receive from the FSL team, on their self-efficacy in addressing the cognitive, behavioral, and social skills of students with ASD. We feel that, if we can empower student mentors and tutors to believe that they can work with and make a difference for students with ASD, then the recruitment, retention, and graduation of these students may improve in addition to the attitudes of those who work with them.

2.  Effective Coaching Study: Because there may be a difference between how mentors and tutors rate their self-efficacy and the actual effectiveness of their work with FSL participants, we are also attempting to gauge the coaching ability of mentors in working with students with ASD and investigate differences, if any, between the their perceived efficacy and actual results. By examining the individualized goals and progress of FSL participants and how their mentors were able to facilitate the completion of those goals, we hope to provide guidance on improving the mentoring experience over the life of the program.

3.  Empathy Study: It is also important that students and faculty have empathy with those who are different from them. Using the La Monica Empathy profile by Rigolosi, this study seeks to inform program decisions on how to expand the empathy of those who work with individuals with ASD and advance the working relationships for all involved.

Although I have struggled with the idea of including too much research in the program, I have already been able to see the benefits of implementing these studies based on the way that they are shaping the improvement efforts of FSL.  I know that research is a touchy subject for programs such as this, so I encourage anyone with questions about the research to contact out team.  All of our contact information can be found at