Traditional academic publications may include very general ideas that may eventually improve programs, while outcome research may describe potential benefits of specific interventions to specific people. But advocates and leaders eager to create, improve, or expand programs are often seeking more specific guidance. They want to close important gaps in implementation and ensure better lives for everyone affected by ASD right now.
The opinions described here are intended to offer such guidance. Together with stories of and lessons about program development, these opinions help move beyond the ideas suggested by research, to implementation and impact on the scale needed to make real and immediate differences in the lives of the many people living with ASD and related conditions.
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Implement, baby, implement!
After three decades and billions of dollars spent on research, many people with ASD and related conditions are still seeing little or no benefit in their day to day lives. Is traditional autism research becoming a bridge to nowhere?
Don't be blinded by white elephants
New programs that begin by investing heavily in new facilities risk creating a white elephant. Consider first creating an expert team, and then demonstrating that your program is effective, replicable, and sustainable.
Train & Hope Program Development
Too many people promoting the adoption of new practices focus on new programs of training. Their mistake? Ignoring other changes in policy and services often needed to support the widespread adoption of new practices.
A Bus to Betsy's
The nominee for Secretary of Education does not know what IDEA is. She wants more charters and less oversight. She thinks best practices and equal protection vary from state to state. Betsy DeVos would send special education back to the Stone Age.
The business of innovation in ASD services
Surprisingly, service innovation does not grow naturally from research: it builds on business plans shaped by available expertise, funding, key staff, and leadership. The result? Established services grow rapidly while emerging needs languish.
Delaware Network on Excellence in Autism
Can a new statewide training initiative increase expertise and capacity while bridging important gaps between sectors? Yes, if it focuses on cross-cutting needs, leverages other resources, and works with an effective inter-agency ASD committee.
The business of inquiry in ASD research
The academic industry of ASD research can churn out traditional science and scientists with great efficiency. But researchers documenting successful implementation will struggle to get grants, publish their findings, and advance their careers.
Too small, and your program cannot maintain expertise, support more diverse students, and so on. Too big and you create layers of oversight that stretch the fidelity of your core practices. Just right, and you can break even AND plan for the future.
Killed by Success
So you have a successful program ready to help even more people? Beware of unchecked growth, and consider pivoting to explore how to replicate it or make it more accessible. Or maybe even piloting an entirely new program.
Are you ready to outgrow your niche?
All programs begin by exploiting a niche: focusing on specific set of goals, using specific practices, for a specific group of people, and so on. Recognizing this niche helps leaders and advocates project growth more accurately.
Looking beyond the rhetoric to the record
Despite investments in ASD research, the implem-entation gap is wider than ever. How do funders decide which new proposals will really improve outcomes? This series of pieces offers guidelines for funders determined to demonstrate impact.