Mother Cabrini Health Foundation Award to RFK Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center

April 21, 2020

The RFK Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center received an award from Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to provide a set of evidence-based interventions for preschool and school aged children in the Bronx with Autism. The program, which works with low income, ethnically diverse families, would incorporate interventions with the child (1), parent and child (2) and parent alone (3) including:

  1. Social Cognitive/Skills Intervention using the social cognitive methodology used for children on the autism spectrum who have social-cognitive deficits. This approach aims to increase social attention and interpretation of the social environment (e.g. how the social world works and how to function within the social context). It provides tools for children to understand, engage and respond socially across academic and social settings.
  2. Parent Training Intervention, parent and child will learn tools to increase language/social development in a 12-week session. This intervention, based on the Pediatric Autism Communication Therapy (PACT) helps parents develop strategies to foster their child's social and communication responses, using supportive language strategies. Parents work through the different phases of this intervention by learning techniques to set the foundation for language and social development. This intervention is implemented through a combination of in-person teaching, use of at-home video recording of the intervention and review of clips with therapists to provide feedback and monitoring of progress.
  3. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) short-term behavioral modification therapeutic services, provided to parent and child in weekly sessions for 12-16 weeks targeting behavioral challenges. The therapy focuses on improving social interactions, learning new skills and maintaining positive behaviors across all environments. This therapy will provide parents with tools to use at home to decrease negative behaviors by using positive reinforcement techniques. Functional Behavioral Analysis (FBA) and communication training are techniques used for determining the purpose of behavior in the environmental setting and remediating behavioral problems.
  4. Parent support groups to assist families with the stresses inherent in parenting a child with Autism. This intervention uses a strength-based model to help parents cope with their child's disability, needs, strengths and weaknesses. The supportive environment offers parent-to-parent support and provides a safe space to discuss challenges and victories parents face in having a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

These interventions have been shown to result in improvements in socialization, language development and parental stress, but are not readily available for families in the Bronx. The program will be evaluated, and families and children will complete pre and post questionnaires on social competence and parental stress and undergo objective progress measures to assess improvements made through the interventions.


PI: Lisa Shulman MD and Maria Valicenti McDermott MD MS
Co-investigators: Tammy Fried MSW and Risa Battino SLP
Research coordinator: Molly O'Neil MPH