Launched in 2007, The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance is a unique partnership between The Help Group, a leader in autism education, and the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Through the pioneering vision of Dr. Barbara Firestone, President and CEO of The Help Group, and Dr. Peter Whybrow, Director of the UCLA Semel Institute, the Alliance provides an internationally recognized model for this type of a collaborative relationship and is at the vanguard of work that promises to discover new ways to improve the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The movement toward empirically based approaches in the community has created a need for community based resources to pair with local universities in order to validate treatments. An essential first step in transitioning research from the University to the community or school setting involves developing relationships with community or school partners. The development of these partnerships is typically complex and involves many elements that may be unfamiliar to researchers, mental health practitioners, and educators. Fortunately, through the groundbreaking collaboration between two of the nation’s leading institutions, these two worlds have been joined through The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance.
To date, over 20 exciting and innovative translational research initiatives have been undertaken through the Alliance. Current areas of autism research include interventions to improve language development in children, cognitive behavioral treatments to decrease anxiety in children and adolescents, evaluating the effects of medication on communication and repetitive behaviors in adolescents and adults, using alternative approaches like music education or yoga to improve behavioral functioning in school-aged children, improving friendship quality and social skills for adolescents and young adults, and understanding the social trajectory and factors that increase successful school adaptation for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Through efforts like these, autism research is taking the next critical step into the real world of special education classrooms – while investigators explore answers to some of the long standing questions about how to best treat individuals with ASD.