BUFFALO, N.Y. - Kids with autism aren't damaged. They just connect with people differently. That's what scientists Dr. Marcus Thomeer and Dr. Chris Lopata have been trying to prove through research for 20 years.
“The longitudinal research on our kids shows that they have limited capacity to get and maintain a job, they have social isolation, prolonged dependence on family members,” said Dr. Lopata.
They're co-directors of the Institute for Autism Research at Canisius College. After several clinical trials, they say they've found something effective to help change the lives of high-functioning children living with autism.
“These are kids that want to have friends, they just don’t know how to do it. They have so much to offer, but we need to make sure we’re giving them skills,” said Dr. Thomeer.
They've created programs and clinical trials to focus on improving these skills. They just finished their most recent trial called "MaxOut" for kids ages 7 to 12.
They're focused on maximizing four skills:
1. Social skills2. Face and emotion recognition3. Expanding their interests4. Understanding non-literal language
For 18 weeks they worked on these social skills with 88 children, one-on-one. The results were positive.
“We’re seeing our kids have friendships and have kids come over and they’re being invited to birthday parties,” said Dr. Lopata.
Researchers say these new social skills are sticking with them, weeks after they've been practiced. The pair has seen positive results in their studies in schools (SchoolMax), summer programs (SummerMax), and more. Their next step is to take this program into the child’s home (HomeMax) and eventually across the country to help millions.
“We’re looking to show that these are evidence-based programs that can be effective in improving the social performance of individuals with an autism spectrum disorder,” said Dr. Thomeer.
If you're a parent of a child living with autism or just interested in learning more, you can visit their website by clicking here or call 716-888-2800.
They're now taking applications for MaxFit, their program focusing on these skills during fitness activity. It's free to participate.
This story was first published by Taylor Epps at WKBW in Buffalo, New York.