Research Projects

Research at May Institute is conducted in multiple areas.

These include:

  • Capacity building in public schools
  • Program evaluation/systems change
  • Treatment of food selectivity and refusal
  • Assessment and treatment of severe challenging behavior
  • Methods for increasing communication and social interaction

Current Research Projects

Efficacy of the Direct Instruction Language for Learning Program to Promote Expressive and Receptive Language in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  

As the number of identified cases of ASD increases, there is a marked need for skilled professionals to provide effective intervention. Dr. Alice Shillingsburg is Co-Investigator on a project funded by the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) to identify easy-to-use, accessible, and exportable interventions for children with ASD.

Students with Autism Accessing General Education

Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can present with many challenges that teachers often are ill-prepared to respond to. Dr. Cynthia Anderson is Principal Investigator for the Massachusetts site of a multi-state project funded by the U.S. Department of Education to help teachers better meet that challenge. In this project, Dr. Anderson is evaluating effects of an individualized framework for delivering evidence-based interventions in public schools.

Assessment and Treatment of Problem Behavior for Adults with Disabilities

Much of the research on function-based support has been conducted with children and adolescents with disabilities and important questions remain regarding the feasibility of evidence-based methods of assessment and treatment in adult service settings. Dr. Cynthia Anderson is leading a research project in several of our May Centers for Adult Services sites to evaluate several different methods of functional analysis and identify barriers and enablers to effective function-based support. Helping with the study are Dr. Sarah Weddle, Director of Outreach and Behavioral Support and Adult Services Clinical Director, Meg Walsh.

Evaluation of the Relation Between Choice and Intervention Effectiveness

Several evidence-based interventions exist for increasing students’ acquisition of foundational skills in reading and math. Dr. Meghan Silva, a post-doctoral fellow at May Institute, and Dr. Cynthia Anderson are exploring whether intervention effectiveness is enhanced when a student actively chooses one intervention over another.

School-based Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder: Does Social Validity Matter?

Social validity has to do with the social significance of an intervention. This could include the goals of the intervention, the procedures used, or the outcomes achieved. Dr. Meghan Silva, a post-doctoral fellow at May Institute, and Dr. Cynthia Anderson are reviewing the literature of school-based interventions with students with ASD to assess the extent to which social validity is reflected in the literature.

Functional Behavioral Assessments and Functional Analysis: An Evaluation of the Utility and Implications for School-based Settings

Despite the potential utility of Functional Analyses to identify intervention strategies that address the specific function(s) of problem behavior, they are widely not utilized in public schools. Far more common are non-experimental methods of functional behavior assessment such as interviews and rating scales. Unfortunately, these methods tend to have poor reliability and validity and often take an extended amount of time to conduct. Dr. Brittany Jubon, a post-doctoral fellow at May Institute, and Dr. Cynthia Anderson are comparing non-experimental methods of assessment completed by school personnel to functional analysis with regard to: (a) assessment duration (i.e., time cost); (b) feasibility of assessment as measured by resources needed (e.g., trained staff, session space); (c) social validity of assessment as measured (e.g., acceptability of the procedures, likelihood that the school would use the procedures in the future); and (d) the accuracy of each assessment at identifying the function(s) of the target behavior.

An Evaluation of Omnibus and Program-Specific Treatment Integrity for Behavioral Skills Training

Treatment integrity, or the degree to which a treatment is implemented as intended, is an important consideration when evaluating staff training procedures as evidenced by the literature. Despite the compelling rationale for collecting these data, treatment integrity is not often reported in school settings. One potential barrier to collecting treatment integrity data in the classroom setting is the resources required to create, measure, and collect those data. Dr. Brittany Juban, a post-doctoral fellow at May Institute, Dr. Ryan Martin, Research Scientist, and Dr. Cynthia Anderson are conducting a study to determine whether an omnibus treatment integrity measure can be used to demonstrate mastery of many different teaching procedures when compared to program-specific TI measures.

National Standards Project: State of the Evidence for School-based Interventions

The National Standards Project was a review of the literature to identify evidence-based practices for addressing core and associated features of ASD. Dr. Cynthia Anderson and Dr. Ryan Martin are updating this review and expanding it in several ways including:

  • analyzing contextual variables that may affect implementation and outcomes of school-based interventions
  • asssessing the extent to which social validity was assessed and affected outcomes
  • conducting a meta-analysis to determine effect sizes for different interventions

Autism Intervention Modules (AIM) for Families

Parents and other caregivers desire evidence-based interventions to help their children at home. Although parent training interventions exist, they often require extensive time commitments. Dr. Ryan Martin and Dr. Cynthia Anderson are evaluating a novel approach to home-based intervention for children with ASD that uses video modeling and teleconferencing to support caregivers in implementing a variety of intervention modules that are tailored to meet the goals of individual children.

Increasing Conversation Skills

Helping children with ASD learn to converse with peers is an important goal for intervention. Research suggests a method called behavior skills training (BST) may be effective in reaching this goal. However, most studies on BST were conducted in clinical settings and on a 1:1 basis. In this study we are investigating the use of BST in a school-based, small-group format to teach children with ASD and other disabilities various conversation skills such as initiating greetings, sustaining back-and-forth conversation, and appropriate non-verbal communication. The study is being led by Dr. Brittan Juban, a post-doctoral fellow at May Institute, Dr. Ryan Martin, Research Scientist, and Dr. Cynthia Anderson.

Advances in Assessment of Implementation Fidelity

Fidelity is the extent to which an intervention is implemented is designed. Treatment fidelity is a key variable in research and practice but is often overlooked as measurement can be challenging. In a line of research led by Dr. Ryan Martin, Research Scientist, Dr. Brittany Juban a post-doctoral fellow at May Institute, and Dr. Cynthia Anderson, we are developing a framework for designing tools for measuring the implementation fidelity of behavioral interventions that are comprehensive and accurate yet still feasible for use in clinical settings. A secondary aim of this project is to develop omnibus measures of implementation fidelity that can be used universally across behavioral interventions and determine whether such measures demonstrate technical adequacy for use in applied settings and in large-scale research projects.