By Marcus Thomeer, PhD

The Institute for Autism Research (IAR) at Canisius College is an interdisciplinary collaborative research center dedicated to understanding autism and enhancing the lives of autistic children and their families. Researchers from diverse backgrounds work together to address critical questions involving causes, development, assessment, interventions, and education. This research work has led to development of several new and effective programs for autistic children without intellectual disabilities (ID) that include summerMAX, MAXout, and schoolMAX.

The focus of IAR MAX programs is to teach social/social communication skills and provide multiple opportunities to practice these skills. Specifically, these programs address four main areas: social skills, face and affect recognition, interest expansion, and the interpretation of non-literal language (idioms) that are difficult for autistic children. Participating children receive instruction that includes role play, modeling, and performance feedback. In addition to the instruction, the children participate in cooperative and recreational activities specifically developed for the autistic children to practice taught skills.

The summerMAX program has been conducted each summer since 2003 for 7½ hours a day, five days a week for five weeks. The children, ages 7-12 years old, see it as a summer camp that includes swimming and end-of-the-week field trips. The IAR has conducted seven studies (three of which were randomized clinical trials) that have demonstrated the feasibility and effectiveness of the summerMAX program.

Realizing the need to expand options for autistic children without intellectual disabilities, the IAR team adapted the summerMAX program for use in an outpatient setting called MAXout, and for implementation in schools, schoolMAX. The MAXout program is conducted in 90-minute sessions, twice a week for 18 weeks while schoolMAX is conducted across the 10-month school year. Critical in the development of the schoolMAX program was the need to ensure that the social/social communication instruction and practice sessions could be implemented without negatively impacting academic instruction. The efficacy of both the MAXout and schoolMAX programs has been demonstrated via randomized clinical trials.

The IAR is currently evaluating an after-school socialization program in area schools as well as an adapted summerMAX program for 4–6-year-old autistic children without intellectual disabilities and a parent-led home socialization program, homeMAX. In the after-school socialization program the autistic children without intellectual disabilities receive instruction and practice with their peers to increase their ability to make and maintain friendships at school. In addition to the development and evaluation of programs to maximize the potential of autistic children without ID, the IAR also conducts research on characteristics and features of autism and ways to evaluate/measure outcomes.

If you are interested in supporting the work of the IAR, please join us at the upcoming 7th Annual Lend A Paw for Autism Dog Walk Fundraiser on April 29th. For information about this fun event, or for further information about the work of the IAR, visit For questions, contact the IAR via email at, or by phone at 716-888-2800.

Marcus Thomeer, PhD is Co-Director of the Institute for Autism Research and Psychology Professor at Canisius College.