The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, has mushroomed in recent years, jumping 15 percent between 2016 and 2018 alone. An estimated one in 59 children has received an autism diagnosis, making it likely that all regular education teachers will encounter a student with ASD at some point in their careers, said autism education expert Jan Blacher.

Dr. Jan Blacher, a distinguished professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, is on a mission to improve how regular education teachers engage with kids with ASD in their classrooms. Along with Abbey Eisenhower of the University of Massachusetts-Boston, she’s the co-leader of a bi-coastal team of researchers working to develop a school-based intervention geared toward enhancing relationships between young children with ASD and their teachers. Their work is supported by a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, or IES.

“The student-teacher relationship in the early school grades actually affects children’s long-term outcomes,” Blacher said, emphasizing the importance of student-teacher relationships to kids’ later social and academic success in middle school. 

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