Provost award winner speaks on autism

Amanda Nicolson Adams, director of the Central California Autism Center, explained the history and effectiveness of her work with applied behavior science at Fresno State.

She is also an associate professor in the Department of Psychology.

Adams’ lecture – “The Butterfly Effect of Applied Behavior” – was part of the Provost Awards Lecture Series, which honors each year’s provost award winners. Adams is a recipient of the Faculty Service Award and gave her presentation in the Henry Madden Library.

Adams’ work heavily revolves around Autism Spectrum Disorders. These disorders, according to a 2009 citing from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention, affect 1 in 110 children.

The Central California Autism Center at Fresno State opened in 2007 and provides behavioral treatment for children, typically ages 18 months to six years. It is an active research facility and has a sizeable waiting list of students anxious to join. The program initially began with a psychology, field-experience course dealing with translational research, taking science from the lab and applying it in the field.

Adams’ presentation noted that since 2007, the center’s behavior therapy service has helped five children to lose their autism diagnosis completely, and has helped curb symptoms in many others.

According to the CCAC website, children taking part in the program “improve their skills and abilities across many domains, including language, motor skills, self-help skills, social skills, pre-academic skills and general learning skills.”

Short clips in the presentation showcased students working with children in the Center to teach them social cues through group games.

Twice, Adams has traveled to Bosnia and Georgia with a team to help establish facilities and programs to aid children with autism.

“The goal was to replicate our model here. That was really exciting to see – somewhere across the world replicating what we have here,” Adams said.

Adams’ trip to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, was particularly noted because the country was war-torn 15 years ago.

“It struck me going over, and struck me with what I’m almost ashamed to say, a sense of pity that they were just out of a war and didn’t have any resources,” Adams said. “I was overwhelmed by what they did have and how confident and skilled they actually were, and really not deserving of any pity at all. They just needed some help.”

Adams and the local parent group set up the facilities from scratch, helping to prepare a model used in Fresno for behavioral therapy.

While there is a growing number of children diagnosed with an ASD in the United States, Adams believes that numbers globally may be equal to those here.

“Due to diagnostic abilities of developing regions and nations, numbers tend to be low,” Adams said. “With proper diagnostic services, numbers of children with ASD may soon be clearer for researchers.”