Our research focuses on community dissemination and implementation of intervention and professional development programs dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Our research team is composed of an interdisciplinary group of researchers (faculty, postdoctoral fellows, clinical psychology interns, and clinical psychology graduate students) from the School of Medicine and the Department of Psychology and Neurosciences.

TEACCH School Transition to Employment and Post Secondary Education Program

The TEACCH® School Transition to Employment and Postsecondary Education Program (T-STEP) is a community college-based intervention developed to support transition to employment and post-secondary education for 16 to 21-year-olds with Autism Spectrum Disorder who will or have received the Future-Ready Core high school diploma. The T-STEP is a 12-week intervention that includes a didactic course on the community college campus targeting executive function, emotion regulation, and social communication skills. Additionally, students practice these skills on a weekly basis at a volunteer internship site. Students also receive individual career counseling, higher education counseling, and self-advocacy counseling.

The T-STEP is offered at 5 community colleges. We are conducting two federally funded randomized-controlled trials to assess the efficacy of the T-STEP.  The first project (funded by The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research; NIDLRR) is a waitlist control study with 120 participants enrolled across 3 years.  The second project (funded by the Department of Defense) compares the efficacy of the comprehensive T-STEP program (course, internship counseling) to a less intensive program including services typically available on a college campus This is a 4-year study with 120 participants.

As part of the T-STEP, we developed a behavioral observation measure called the TREE (Transition Readiness and Employability Evaluation) examining “soft skills” that are often difficult for transition-aged individuals with ASD.  We are conducting research examining the validity and reliability of this measure, including collecting a standardization sample of typical high school and college students.

Families interested in participating or learning more about this program can contact the T-STEP team at 919-843-9505 or email TSTEPinfo@med.unc.edu

Long-term Adult Outcomes

We are following a group of 300 30-50-year old adults with ASD who were seen at TEACCH as children. We are looking at developmental trajectories across the lifespan and are also looking at the needs of adults with ASD. We are currently recontacting families to (1) examine employment and residential status for 30-60 year old adults; (2) identify predictors of adult outcome (employment and residential status) across a 5 year time period; and to pilot a caregiver survey assessing cognitive decline/dementia in a subset of this population to examine aging with autism. We are also studying community integration through the use of GPS trackers.

Second Generation Study

The Second Generation Project is a follow-up study for families who previously participated in a UNC TEACCH study examining autism in adulthood (see above). The purpose of the Second Generation Project is to determine whether levels of autistic traits in offspring of undiagnosed siblings of ASD probands differs compared to the general population.  That is, we are looking at the rate of autism symptomatology in the nieces and nephews of adults with ASD.

Project ECHO Autism

echo logo

Through ongoing funding from NC Council on Developmental Disabilities (NCCDD), the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the NC Area Health Education Centers (AHEC), TEACCH is implementing and collecting data on a teleconsultation model (Project ECHO) to support primary care medical and mental health providers in rural North Carolina. Our goal is to improve healthcare for individuals with ASD across the lifespan. To date, we have reached 92 providers in 20 counties. We are currently conducting a follow up study of the first 5 cohort of providers and recruiting for two additional cohorts.

Research Team

Faculty:

  • Dr. Laura Klinger (Principal Investigator), Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Executive Director, TEACCH Autism Program
  • Dr. Nancy Bagatell, Associate Professor, Department of Allied Health Sciences, Division Director Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
  • Dr. Dara Chan, Assistant Professor, Department of Allied Health Sciences, Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling
  • Dr. Nicole Dreiling, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Clinical Director, Raleigh TEACCH Center
  • Dr. Brianne Tomaszewski, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, TEACCH

Research Assistants:

  • Elena Lamarche, Research Coordinator, TEACCH
  • Karrah Bowman, Research Assistant, TEACCH
  • MaryKate Frisch, Research Assistant, TEACCH

Graduate Students & Postdoctoral Fellows:

  • Michal Cook, Graduate Student, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience
  • Dr. Sara Matherly, Postdoctoral Fellow, TEACCH
  • Rachel Sandercock, Graduate Student, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience
  • Ya Cing Syu, Graduate Student, Department of Allied Health, Occupational Science

For more information: Contact Elena Lamarche at elena_lamarche@med.unc.edu