In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, The New England Center for Children’s (NECC) clinicians and graduate students have shifted their research efforts. While bettering the lives of their students has always been paramount in NECC’s research, there has been an increased emphasis on engaging in timely studies over the last several months. The result of this renewed focus is a number of studies that focus specifically on helping keep children with autism healthy during these uncertain times.

“When COVID-19 hit it became obvious rather quickly that we had to switch gears,” said Jason Bourret PhD, BCBA-D, LABA, NECC’s Clinical Director. “We knew that it was in our students’ best interest for us to use our research capabilities to help keep them safe.”

One specific study that falls under this safety-centric category focuses on helping children with autism better tolerate wearing masks. By finding more effective ways to teach this habit, the children will be better protected from the possible spread of COVID-19. The study, which is in its preliminary stages, is being led by Stephanie Bonfonte MS, BCBA, LABA.

“Given the social-distancing guidelines and being unable to meet physically with students, this study is different from what we’ve done in the past,” says Bonfonte. “Instead of working directly with the student, we are coaching parents to implement effective strategies and helping them make data-driven decisions.”

Although this added step of going through parents is different, Bonfonte also sees the value in using this opportunity to better educate parents on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) principles and how they can help their children in all kinds of scenarios. Said Bonfonte, “I enjoy these parent training opportunities very much. I’ve found that showing parents the power of consequences in helping their children has been especially useful. As a whole, these opportunities empower parents to teach new skills, which is critical during these times.”

While Bonfonte’s study is the furthest along of the new wave of safety related research, it is not alone. There are also studies being done looking at helping children with autism with hand washing and best practices of keeping congregate care facilities safe from the spread of illness. Through all of these different initiatives, as Bourret notes, the students remain the focus.

“All our research is done with our students in mind. Improving their lives is always our main focus.”

About The New England Center for Children
The New England Center for Children® (NECC®) is an award-winning autism education center and research institute. Our community of teachers, researchers, and clinicians have transformed the lives of thousands of children with autism worldwide through education, research, and technology. The Center provides comprehensive services to maximize independence: home-based, day, and residential programs, partner classrooms in public school systems, consulting services, the ACE® ABA Software System (http://www.acenecc.org), teacher professional development, and research on educational best practices.

NECC is committed to staff professional development, partnering with local colleges to provide on-site graduate training and degrees at little to no cost to the NECC teacher. The result is a growing pool of exceptional teachers trained in best-in-class methodologies, whether they continue their careers at NECC or move on to public schools or private agencies. The New England Center for Children is based in Southborough, MA, and operates a center in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Learn more at https://www.necc.org.