Newswise — Inside of Science Hall at Canisius University sits the Institute of Autism Research, also known as the IAR. The institute’s work is dedicated to understanding autism and helping individuals and families affected by autism.

“What we’re out to do is help maximize their potential,” Co-Director of the IAR Dr. Marcus Thomeer said. “We help them navigate the social world”.

Dr. Thomeer is a part of the research team at Canisius University that led new research on the IAR’s summerMAX and schoolMAX social intervention programs. This new research showed that the children who participated in the programs had long-term, positive outcomes.

“It’s not just one and done,” Thomeer said. “The kids maintained gains or the skills that we’ve taught and they’ve practiced beyond just the program itself.”

In the initial research, the IAR took 103 kids living with autism from around Western New York to participate in either the summerMAX program or the schoolMAX program. The schoolMAX program teaches not just the children participating in the program different skills to add, but it also teaches parents, teachers and others involved with the child’s life on how to teach the skills.

In the schoolMAX, the experimental group received the schoolMAX teachings while the control group received the regular lessons provided by their schools. As a result, the children who received the schoolMAX program grew in their social abilities. The children who did not participate in the schoolMAX program, they participated in the summerMAX program.

After four years of initial research with the two programs, the IAR team decided to conduct a long-term follow-up from 2.5 to 5 years, following 90 of the children who participated in the intervention programs. The follow-up research tested the children three times a year to see the retention rate of the skills they learned in the program. All 90 children yielded those same positive results from immediate training and even showed decreased autism symptoms.

This is the first study to demonstrate those long term durability of the findings.

Dr. Jonathan Rodgers, Associate Professor of Psychology at Canisius University

Recognizing the Canisius team’s research is The Lancet Commission, an independent medical journal. The Lancet mentioned the IAR’s summerMAX program in a newly published report “The Lancet Commission on the future of care and clinical research in autism”, confirming the results of the IAR’s findings. The Lancet Commission team who confirmed the results was composed of over 30 reviewers from six continents.

“To be recognized by the highest level of medical view and expert review as a program that truly demonstrates that works was a really meaningful experience for us”

Dr. Jonathan Rodgers, Associate Professor of Psychology at Canisius University

A unique part of this research is the student involvement. Over 500 students at all levels at Canisius were able to participate in conducting the research for the study.

“At most universities on research teams, it would be doctoral students or it would be postgraduate assessors,” Rodgers said. “At Canisius University, we provide undergraduate students the experience and the training to be able to do those kinds of assessments effectively”.

According to Dr. Rodgers, this new research can help shape the future of care for autistic children and their development on all fronts.

“Demonstrating that what we have done over time really makes an impact for our kids and our families and also makes an impact on the scientific community,” Rodgers said. “Demonstrating that this method of teaching of practicing and reinforcing skills is what really helps these kids grow in these areas.”

The IAR will not be continuing the summerMAX program for the summer of 2024 as they plan to expand the research from the programs further. The center will introduce the SoFit program, taking the same social intervention practices and using them for fitness.

If you’d like to learn more about Canisius University’s Institute of Autistic Research, you can reach out by email to [email protected] or by phone at 716-888-2800.