The ESRC, co-directed by Michael Siller, PhD, and Lindee Morgan, PhD, CCC-SLP, is dedicated to changing the landscape of education for children with autism in Georgia and beyond. Our efforts emphasize educational strategies that promote students’ active engagement in the classroom. For many students with autism, active engagement is hampered by limited social attention, difficulties with emotional self-regulation and the presence of restricted interests. We strive to develop inclusive classroom environments aimed at fostering social-emotional engagement in students with autism and their typically developing peers alike.
Our goals are to develop, test and disseminate
- Inclusive classroom-based programs to support toddlers and preschoolers with autism.
- Inclusive classroom-based programs to support elementary, middle and high school students with autism and related learning differences and their typically developing peers.
- Neuroscience and technology-based solutions to improve classroom teaching and education science.
- Interventions to support parent-school collaboration across a broad age span.
In 2018, we launched the Preschool Program, an inclusive lab and school where children with and without autism learn together and from each other. Serving up to 46 children between 2 and 5 years of age, we operate as a school and a place of research on inclusive preschool education. As of 2019, we are funded as a Georgia Pre-K program and were awarded two stars by Georgia’s Quality Rated program. We strive to create community-viable model classrooms at Marcus Autism Center and partner with early childhood education programs in the community to study implementation at scale.
We have the kids sit in a typical toddler car seat that is mounted on the ground and sat in front of a small TV screen. We choose clips that are rich with social information. Clips are often of caregiver actors talking to a baby, or of toddlers interacting with toys and each other. All clips are naturalistic and depict situations that could be encountered on a playground, at home or at school. The total set of clips is around 15-20 minutes. Our research team coordinates with your child’s teachers to find a good time for them to be taken out of class so they’re not missing anything important. A trained member of the education sciences research core will be always with your child. We have gone through background checks and are present in the preschool often, so your child is likely familiar with the person who will be walking them to and from class. We conduct these sessions twice per school year. As they’re watching the videos, we collect data on what they’re looking at on the screen. What a child chooses to look at not only tells us what they find interesting or important, but also exactly what stimuli is helping to form their developing brain.
The children wear cotton vests that button up the front over their clothes. We put a location tracker in a small 1-inch pocket on the back of the vest. We can see their location when they’re in a room with the sensors: the classrooms and the playground. We conduct social mapping sessions approximately three days per month in each class. Social mapping sessions do not interfere with any instruction in the class. Our teachers work to make the vest days fun for the kids by allowing them to decorate them with stickers, pretending they’re super hero vests, or coming up with other themes. The data collected will help us learn more about the broad patterns of how children approach their friends, spend time with one another, or with their teachers.
- What if I sign the consent but my child decides they don’t want to participate?
o If a child is showing any discomfort during eye-tracking, we stop the session immediately and bring them back to class. We also allow them to bring small toys or snacks with them, or have a teacher or Hilary walk with us upstairs if that would help them transition to this new setting. If they don't want to leave the classroom, we can try on a different day, depending on the situation, but we would never force them to do anything! We definitely prioritize the child's comfort and listen to the child’s needs throughout this process.
- What COVID precautions are you following?
All members of the research team are fully vaccinated and will be wearing masks around your child. The eye-tracking room will be sanitized between each child, and vests will be washed between classes. We have an air purifier used in the eye-tracking room. If there are any known symptoms, exposures, or cases in the research team, the preschool staff will be notified and will communicate any concern to families.
- In 2018, Drs. Siller and Morgan published the “Handbook of Parent-Implemented Interventions for Very Young Children with Autism,” which includes 28 chapters authored by leading intervention researchers, including Sally Rogers, Rebecca Landa, Linda Watson, Jonathan Green, Lynn Koegel, Samuel Odom, Brooke Ingersoll and Aubyn C. Stahmer. This edited volume is part of Springer’s “Autism and Child Psychopathology” series and presents the emerging consensus among researchers about the essential components of effective parent-mediated interventions for young children with autism.
- In 2018, Dr. Morgan was the lead author of a publication titled “Cluster Randomized Trial of the Classroom SCERTS Intervention for Elementary Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” This article was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychiatry and was selected by Autism Speaks as one of the top 10 autism studies of 2018. According to Autism Speaks, this research “evaluated a behavioral intervention designed for classrooms, rather than individual students. The Social, Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transactional Support (SCERTS) intervention produced significant improvement in multiple measures of the students’ social communication. This type of work is important for extending the reach of autism interventions beyond one-on-one therapy sessions to groups.”
Lindee Morgan, PhD, CCC-SLP
Michael Siller, PhD
Laura Edwards, PhD
Lindee Morgan, PhD, CCC-SLP
Michael Siller, PhD