How ASAT Supports Faculty In and Out of the Classroom

Kerry Ann Conde, PhD, BCBA-D
Amanda Fisher, PhD, BCBA-D
Brian Fennell, PhD
David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D

The Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) was established in 1998 as a not-for-profit organization of parents and professionals committed to improving the education, treatment, and care of people with autism. With a mission to promote science-based treatments for people with autism that are safe and effective, ASAT disseminates accurate, timely, and scientifically sound information while advocating for the use of scientific methods to guide decision-making and to combat unsubstantiated, inaccurate, and false information about autism and its treatment. ASAT’s published offerings (i.e., its newsletter, website, and social media platforms) can provide undergraduate and graduate teaching faculty with abundant opportunities to reinforce the relevance of published research and the scientific method, as well as help students identify and analyze evidence-based autism interventions. ASAT is committed to helping consumers become more savvy decision makers when it comes to important choices, including the following: how best to help their child; how to differentiate science and pseudoscience; and how to make sense of the plethora of information and misinformation available on the internet. We believe that undergraduate and graduate students would also benefit greatly from these skills.

We would like to take this opportunity to share details about four important ASAT initiatives that may be helpful to you as a graduate or undergraduate faculty member:

  1. ASAT publishes a quarterly newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment (SIAT), containing reviews of published research, books, and consumer resources (e.g., training videos, websites), interviews with leaders in the field of autism treatment and advocacy, answers to questions about important clinical issues related to treatment, tips to differentiate evidence-based options from others marketed as panaceas, guidance to media professionals, and more.
  2. ASAT’s website provides valuable information about weighing the evidence supporting various treatment options. ASAT regularly updates treatment descriptions and research summaries so readers may access timely information about the current state of autism intervention research in an easy-to-read format. The website also contains book reviews, interviews, topical articles, information to assist with a variety of clinical issues, and pages specific to special interest groups such as parents of newly diagnosed children, medical professionals, and journalists. In addition, you can find links to the current newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment (SIAT) as well as past issues in the Archived Newsletters section.
  3. ASAT’s Media Watch monitors mainstream media to identify published information about autism and autism treatments. Understanding that every media contribution has the potential to reach thousands of consumers and service providers, we support accurate media depictions of empirically–sound interventions. We also respond to inaccurate information about proposed treatments reported and, at times, promulgated by news outlets. Your students can review our 150+ published letters as models of professional interaction with journalists and media outlets. Additionally, guidelines are provided for journalists to help them tackle their next autism story from a science-minded and conscientious perspective.
  4. ASAT also has a 150-hour externship program for students, professionals, and family members to gain experience in a not-for-profit organization while increasing their knowledge within the field of autism.

Again, ASAT can provide opportunities for your students to meet the challenges of a field fraught with pseudoscience and recognize the importance of keeping science and evidence at the forefront. As is the case for family members and providers, it may also be challenging for students to navigate through the literature and media related to autism treatments. Therefore, you may find ASAT’s resources useful for instructional activities in this area. Below you will find suggestions of ways you might incorporate ASAT’s resources within your courses. For example, students could review research synopses on ASAT’s website and then share information on several treatments with their classmates. Additionally, the students could demonstrate how they would talk to lay persons in an objective manner about such treatments based upon the state of the research, or lack thereof.

How faculty can incorporate ASAT’s resources into teaching, readings, and course assignments in undergraduate or graduate courses:

  1. Have students write reaction papers to articles published in the column Becoming a Savvy Consumer.Part of ASAT’s mission is to educate others by “disseminating accurate, timely, and scientifically sound information.” This section of our website highlights scientific concepts and methods as they relate to potential autism interventions. Faculty can have students read a selected article to write a reaction paper. The reaction may include responses to some of the following questions, although not all would apply to each article:
    • What was the question/issue the article was trying to address? Provide a brief rationale for why this might be an important question.
    • Provide an overview of the audience this article best targets.
    • Summarize the author’s major points and conclusions.
    • Answer the following: Is the treatment supported as an effective intervention for autism? What evidence supports this position?
    • Were there any additional resources related to the topic provided by the authors?
  2. Have students select an autism treatment and write an “Is there science behind that?” article.Recent issues of “Is there science behind that?” include the topics bleach therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Faculty can encourage students to select a treatment which is not already highlighted (e.g., utilizing Tobii eye gaze technology, the effects of Suramin on reducing autistic-like traits, the effects of stem cell therapy). As reinforcement for this activity, outstanding efforts may be submitted for potential publication in the ASAT newsletter – a wonderful addition to a student’s curriculum vitae.

    An alternative format for this activity, suggested by Dr. Mary McDonald, a former ASAT Board member, would utilize a roleplaying exercise in which students select a treatment and take turns assuming the role of a consumer (parent/teacher) or a provider. The provider would pitch the treatment to the consumer; the consumer would then respond with questions. The class could then discuss the interactions and central themes that emerged from the activity. Role-play exercises may be a suitable alternative format for other suggested activities as well.

  3. Have students choose an article from the Clinical Corner library, answer questions about it, and present to the class.The Clinical Corner offers answers to a plethora of questions commonly asked surrounding treatments for autism. Although ASAT cannot respond to individual, specific questions, the responses may help guide clinical decision-making as they are provided by experts in the field and supported by research and clinical experience.
     
    As a course activity, faculty may have students select an article from the Clinical Corner (perhaps a clinical question for which they are currently struggling), answer the recommended study questions below, and present the information to the class. As an example, the student response for this activity may address the following:

    • What question was the Clinical Corner article addressing?
    • Provide a brief rationale for why this might be an important issue for the autism community.
    • Summarize the suggestions from the article.
    • Provide a practical example of some of the suggestions in the article.
    • Extend the research: Read additional references and resources provided or find other peer-reviewed articles independently on the topic. What do the additional articles/resources say that support the suggestions in the Clinical Corner article? Is anything contradictory? What other suggestions or advice could be added to that stated by the author? What additional follow-up questions could be answered by the author?
  4. Have students identify a question and author a response using our library of Clinical Corner responses as a guide.Some prior questions have included “How do you teach an 18-month old with Autism?” and “Is a BCBA the right professional to help with my child’s sensory issues?” As a course activity, faculty may have students select a new question (perhaps a topic for which they are currently struggling), and answer the recommended study questions below:
    • What question will this Clinical Corner article address?
    • Provide a brief rationale for why this might be an important issue.
    • Provide several suggestions from their research.
    • Provide a practical example of some of the suggestion in the article.

    Support the article with research: Include additional references and resources from other peer-reviewed articles used to formulate the response to the topic.

  5. Have students write a brief synopsis of a published research article related to autism treatment.Our entire library of synopses can serve as models on diverse topics, such as Facilitated Communication (FC), medication, or interventions targeting reading skills. Our consumer-friendly synopses typically address the following areas:
    • Why research this topic? The student would discuss the importance of this line of research to the autism community and highlight what is already known in this area.
    • What did the researchers do? The student would include a brief overview of the study sharing brief details about methodology (i.e., the participants and the procedures).
    • What did the researchers find? The student would summarize the results and main findings. The student could further report whether the hypotheses were supported.
    • What are the strengths and limitations of the study? The student would highlight safeguards to ensure that the results were valid (e.g., control groups of children who did not get the intervention, examiners who did not know who was getting the intervention) and discuss aspects of the study that could be improved (e.g., sample size, procedure for assigning subjects to groups, monitoring of adherence to treatment protocols, assessment of generalization and maintenance).
    • What do the results mean? Finally, the student would describe the implications for consumers and directions for future research.
  6. Have students write a letter to an editor on a recent media story related to autism treatments.With the ubiquity of social media and articles “going viral,” it will be easy for students to find news stories that contain inaccurate representations of autism or treatments for autism. Students can review the literature related to the concerns and include references in a letter to the author/editor. Our library of Media Watch letters contains over 150 letters that will serve as examples.

  7. Engage students in a Scavenger Hunt using the ASAT website.The purpose of the Scavenger Hunt is to familiarize your students with ASAT’s history, mission, and website offerings. This also gives students the opportunity to become familiar with our website. The Scavenger Hunt is a 15-question activity which will require students to navigate through various pages on the ASAT website and record their responses in the space provided. It will take approximately 30-45 minutes to complete this activity and faculty members may consider starting here as it would orient students to our website. We recommend that the passing score be 11/15. The activity and answer key for the Scavenger Hunt are available to faculty members by emailing faculty@asatonline.org. Alternatively, the Scavenger Hunt can be completed in class with students perhaps competing in small groups.

  8. Offer other extra credit activities.Other extra credit activities could include signing up for the newsletter, recruiting others to sign up for the newsletter, sharing an ASAT post on social media such as Facebook or Twitter (with proof via a screen shot), writing a brief essay on the benefits of the newsletter, writing a letter to a teacher or parent on why they should use the website as a resource, etc.

Please keep in mind that Autism Awareness month (April) falls within your spring semesters and may provide some timely opportunities to have your students engage with the autism community. We hope that the array of activities described above will enhance your course offerings. We would love to hear your impressions or if have created other opportunities to highlight science-based treatments into your syllabi. You can reach us at faculty@asatonline.org

Please use the following format to cite this article:

Conde, K. A., Fisher, A., Fennel, B., & Celiberti, D. (2017). How ASAT Supports Faculty In and Out of the Classroom. Science in Autism Treatment, 14(3), 12-16.