Project HEART:
Heightened Excellence in Autism Research and Training

Note: April is National Autism Awareness Month.
Heart-shaped cloud

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopment disorder characterized by social communication delays and rigid and repetitive behavior, affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States. The majority of these children receive intervention in inclusive public school settings where school systems are stressed by the dramatic increase in the number of individuals receiving special education under this classification.

The core characteristics and comorbidities of children with ASD are effectively addressed with a growing number of research and evidence-based practices and when implemented with adequate treatment fidelity in schools, these practices yield positive results. However, intervention research with children with ASD has been largely conducted in clinical settings or by researchers in applied settings rather than by teaching and related service staff and the use of evidence-based practices for students with ASD by teachers remains uneven.

Project HEART provides funding to six doctoral candidates to prepare national leaders within the field of special education who will assume faculty and research positions within special education and early childhood special education. HEART scholars receive leadership training in research, personnel preparation and policy with an emphasis on individualized instructional and behavioral interventions to meet the unique needs of students with ASD. In addition to special education courses, specialized coursework and an integrated professional seminar provide essential content in applied behavior analysis, implementation science, and cultural adaptation of research-based assessment and intervention for this population.

Scholars also participate in rigorous research methods coursework and complete applied research rotations in public schools that are using multi-tiered systems of support and implementation science to improve outcomes for high-need students with ASD. These rotations provide a context for scholars to complete doctoral competencies such as inservice for teaching and related service staff, applied research focused on coaching and behavioral consultation with teaching staff and district autism specialists to improve the use of evidence-based practices, grant writing, and supervision of pre-service teachers alongside autism leadership teams. These rotations also provide meaningful opportunities to sharpen clinical and inter-professional collaboration skills.

These research rotations have been formative for scholarly development and have resulted in the creation of multiple research and outreach projects including: a family navigator program for young children with or at risk for ASD and their families to increase early intervention service utilization and decrease parent stress, a systematic literature review to inform recruitment and retention of diverse participants with ASD, an online professional development series about ASD for special education teachers and paraprofessionals in a high needs district, behavioral tele-consultation with teenagers with ASD and their families in collaboration with PROMISE Wisconsin, and tiered behavioral consultation for preschool special education teachers in an under resourced community.


Grant Program Preparation of Leadership Personnel
Directors Wendy MachalicekKent McIntosh
Organization University of Oregon
Dates Start: 1/1/2016 > End: 12/31/2020
Purpose Six scholars will receive training in research, personnel preparation, and policy with an emphasis on instructional and behavioral interventions to meet the needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The five-year Project HEART culminating in a Ph.D. in Special Education will train future leaders to:

  • conduct research focused on improving outcomes for children with ASD and their families through evidence- based practices (EBPs) and multi- tiered systems of supports;
  • use this research to improve personnel preparation programs; and
  • prepare highly qualified special education teachers to use EBPs with children with ASD.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.