The ASERT Collaborative has several ongoing projects. Some projects start in one region and others are offered statewide. Below are a few projects and initiatives the ASERT Collaborative is working on to help address unmet needs in Pennsylvania. The ASERT Collaborative uses data from multiple sources, including the Pennsylvania Autism Needs Assessment and the Pennsylvania Autism Census, to identify project priorities.
Pennsylvania Autism Census
The 2014 Pennsylvania Autism Census Update was released in the Fall of 2014 by the PA Department of Human Services, led by the ASERT Eastern Region. The Pennsylvania Autism Census is an administrative count of the number of individuals who are receiving services in public service systems. The 2014 update used data from multiple Pennsylvania systems. The full report, previous report, and a clickable map by county are available at paautism.org/census. Pennsylvania Autism Census data can be customized and catered data requests are available. Contact ASERT@drexel.edu to request specific data or reports.
Adult Diagnostic & Assessment Clinics
This project involves developing and expanding autism diagnosis and assessment clinics specifically targeting the older adolescent/adult population. There will be a focus on more in-depth assessment of mental health co-morbidities (e.g., anxiety, depression, personality) and neuropsychological factors (e.g., executive functioning, memory, learning, attention). An increase in accurate identification of ASD for young adults and adults will lead to better treatment outcomes.
Adult and Adolescent Multimedia Social Skills
The Multimedia Social Skills Groups are projects which consist of two social skills groups, one for teens (ages 13 to 17) and the other for young adults (ages 18 to 35) who have high functioning autism. This intervention has been found to improve social skills for individuals with high social anxiety and self-perceived social deficits. These social skills groups include skill building (e.g., how to make and keep friends, dating and relationships, employment-specific social skills) paired with video modeling and a peer generalization component for social skills practice. Groups are currently running in the Central region and are expanding to the Eastern and Western regions for adults. The adolescent social skills group project will focus on developing training materials for professionals to deliver this intervention, which has been effective in improving social fluency for individuals with high social anxiety. Within the next year, the creators of this curriculum will be developing a social skills group for adolescents and young adults (ages 17-23) to specifically focus on the skills needed for the transition to adulthood.
Adult Community Autism Program (ACAP) and Adult Autism Waiver (AAW) Focus Groups
The Bureau of Autism Services (BAS) commissioned the ASERT Collaborative Eastern Region to conduct a series of focus groups in 2013-2014 to engage the two current BAS programs: the Adult Autism Waiver (AAW) and the Adult Community Autism Program (ACAP). ASERT facilitated dialogue among individuals who directly interact with these programs including: individuals with autism, families, service providers, and program administrators. Through this dialogue ASERT accumulated detailed knowledge about their experiences with AAW and ACAP. The results of this project informed program planning and helped to bridge program engagement with BAS, ASERT and service providers. Results of this initiative were communicated to individuals and families through community meetings and a formal report. In late 2015, ASERT conducted a second round of ACAP focus groups to learn if and how program experiences have changed since the first focus groups. Results from this second round of focus groups are in progress.
Psychosocial Rehabilitation for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Traditionally the Psychosocial Rehabilitation is a service model for individuals with severe and persistent mental illness. The goals of the service fall into five categories: Living, Learning, Socializing, Working and Self Maintenance. ASERT has begun research and development of a model of support based on the Club House that specifically meets the unique needs of adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. A pilot program is running in the Western region with the goal of future expansion. The ultimate goal is to identify this service as sustainable support for adults with ASD across the state.
Justice System Projects
The ASERT Collaborative Eastern and Western Regions are working on several initiatives to prevent and improve justice system interactions among individuals with autism in Pennsylvania. ASERT is training justice system professionals on autism, and providing tools and supports to help describe how autism “looks” in communities. Trainings, tools and supports are available throughout the state. Please contact the ASERT Collaborative Eastern Region (ASERT@drexel.edu) if you are interested in a training.
Education of Emergency and Pre-Hospital Responders on the Care of Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder
The ASERT Collaborative Western Region has been collaborating with The Pennsylvania Department of Health since 2014 to provide face-to-face training to groups of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) and Paramedics across the Pennsylvania. A DVD and manual has been developed to provide information to EMT’s and Paramedics on ways to improve communication and safety with individuals with autism spectrum disorder in an emergency situation in the community. In addition, ASERT has collaborated with the Pennsylvania Health Service Council in providing online training in autism to this group.
ASERT has also developed a DVD and manual that will provide training and information to assist emergency room personnel in improving interactions with individuals with autism. The DVD and manual are utilized in several emergency rooms throughout the state in order to provide in service training to physicians, nurses, social workers and other emergency room staff.
ASERT has collaborated with the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority to continue to emphasize the importance of healthcare professionals understanding the needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorder.