Autism Support in Philadelphia Elementary Schools


The Philadelphia Autism Instructional Methods Study, or Philly AIMS as it is known in Philadelphia, is a research project to determine the best ways to put evidence based interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) into practice. The project is conducted by a group of researchers and clinicians at the Center for Autism Research at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. The study takes place in the School District of Philadelphia.

In 2008, Philly AIMS received funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Institute of Education Sciences to conduct a randomized controlled trial to test two types of autism interventions in the School District of Philadelphia: structured teaching and an ABA-based program called Strategies Based on Autism Research (STAR). The Philly AIMS team worked with kindergarten, first, and second-grade autism support programs to determine which intervention was most successful in these classrooms.

After reviewing outcomes after the first year, it was clear that the children enrolled in the STAR curriculum made better progress than the children in autism support classrooms using a structured teaching curriculum. In year two of the study, the School District of Philadelphia made STAR the standard curriculum for kindergarten through second grade autism support classrooms. The District also made training and organizational changes to support autism support classroom teachers and staff. Between 2008-2011, a total of 124 classroom teams and 494 students participated in the Philly AIMS research. Additionally, Philly AIMS consultants provided 27 professional development workshops and monthly consultations, for an approximate total of 300+ hours of training per staff member.

In 2011, after years of training teachers and support staff, Philly AIMS partnered with the District to transition from a research study to a District-funded program that provides ongoing training and support to kindergarten through fifth grade autism support classrooms. Philly AIMS currently employs two highly-skilled classroom consultants to help make the STAR curriculum consistent and successful in the district. The consultants provide in-class coaching and professional development to teachers and staff in 138 classrooms throughout the Philadelphia School District.

AIMS has now expanded to service children with ASD in inclusive settings in first through fifth grades in the Philadelphia district. The University of California at Los Angeles, Rochester University, and the Center for Autism Research, collaboratively, are working with instructional and noon-time aides to help children with ASD improve their social functioning on the playground with their peers.

The AIMS team is planning continued research on the best ways to implement evidence based autism interventions in the Greater Philadelphia area. Work will continue to focus on the best ways to increase teachers’ use of evidence based behavioral interventions for children with ASD, social skills interventions, and Applied Behavior Analytic approaches like discrete trial training, pivotal response training, and functional routines.

AIM’s ultimate goal is to determine which types of interventions are most successful for children with ASD attending large city public schools, which evidence based treatments are most successful, and what supports teachers need to put these programs into place.

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Last Updated: July 12, 2016

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.

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