UW-Whitewater Study of Good Friend Interventions

August 19, 2013
Chelsea Budde

Last week, Denise and I attended and presented at the 6th annual WisABA Conference.  At first, the disparity between the numbers of capital letters after our last names representing our degrees and certifications was intimidating to me.  There we were, in the company of many highly-educated and -trained professionals in the fields of skilled service delivery to individuals with developmental disabilities including autism.  Their technical language was beyond my scope of understanding, in some cases.  And while I recognize and respect the appropriateness of such education and training, for certainly the population that they serve are highly-deserving of their formal preparation to provide therapeutic interventions, I appreciate the equal commitment parent-professionals like Denise and I possess.  Furthermore, we recognize the equal devotion to positive, measurable outcomes of our interventions.

Good Friend's desire to establish an evidence basis for our services was innate.  Since 2008, we'd been seeking an independent researcher to study the effectiveness of our interventions.  Because our interventions are with the classmates and educators surrounding the students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we knew the validation study would have to include hundreds of participants in dozens of services.

Though our first collaboration with UW-Madison disintegrated when the professor left for a position out-of-state, another door opened in 2010 through UW-Whitewater.  Dr. Simone DeVore met with Chelsea Budde and Denise Schamens to discuss the possibility of initiating a study of Good Friend’s elementary school services.   In 2011, Dr. DeVore and her colleague, Dr. Brooke Winchell, were able to observe our staff and student trainings and develop tools to measure change following our staff in-services and Peer Sensitivity Workshops (PSWs) for grades 3-5.  They then drafted a proposal to the university’s Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects (IRB) for approval to allow us to move forward with a pilot study.  Finding willing schools to participate in the pilot in the spring of 2012 paved the way for the next phase, which was the finalization of the tools and application for IRB approval of the full study.

The recruitment of participating schools began in the summer of 2012, with Letters of Affiliation from the University and Presentation Agreements from Good Friend.  Services were conducted between September, 2012, and May, 2013, at no charge to the host schools, but the school administrators were required to get consent from the students’ families to participate.  The schools also helped administer the pre- and post-intervention surveys, which contained both quantitative and qualitative questions.  In the end, the stack of data pictured in the last blog entry was the harvest of three years of collaboration, and was collected from some 800 participants.

Dr. DeVore and Dr. Winchell presented the findings to Denise and me earlier this month.  Based on the data collected through the study, we can say that Good Friend’s PSWs “highly influence” students’ survey answers regarding their understanding about autism (its cause and manifestations), their likelihood to interact with classmates with autism, and their comfort with doing so.  Data collected from the staff in-services highlights improved understanding of available resources, knowledge of strategies for disability harassment intervention, and confidence in working with their students with autism.

Some recurring appreciations from staff include the authenticity of our examples and personal stories, the common language we're able to provide participants, and the relevant resources we're able to explain and connect them with.  What they regret is not having the trainings earlier in the school year and more time to troubleshoot!  In some of the peer participants' comments, it's clear they've absorbed key concepts and are using the terminology accurately!

Denise is looking forward to attending Dr. Winchell's co-presentation with Dr. DeVore of "Autism Peer Intervention Validation Study: Promoting Teacher Knowledge and Peer Sensitivity", based on the research Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders’ annual conference in Chicago, Ill., next month.  The professors are also creating a presentation proposal for the university's Early Childhood Conference (April, 2014).  Furthermore, they are initiating a text analysis of six years’ worth of Good Friend student question cards collected during Good Friend's PSWs.
findings, at the

We are taking the study-based recommendations from the professors and tweaking our services, with the intention of collaborating again with the University in the coming years to do both PSW student subject case studies and longitudinal studies on PSW classrooms.

Frankly, it's a great time to hop on the Good Friend bandwagon!  If you'd like to contribute your time and talent to our mission, we'd be glad to have you!  Contact me or Denise and we'll get you plugged in.

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