Michigan State University

MSU has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world with external funding over 500 million dollars per year, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community of more than 50,000 students through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

At MSU we have two distinct, but highly related and integrated research initiatives that are comprehensively addressing the needs of individuals who have autism, intellectual and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. These are: (1) the DOCTRID Research Institute, which includes the MSU-DOCTRID Hegarty Fellows Program and the EU Marie Curie ASSISTID COFUND Program; and, (2) the newly established interdisciplinary Institute of Research in Autism, Intellectual and other Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (RAIND).

Post-doctoral researchers are highly valued at MSU, and contribute greatly to the research mission of the university while gaining additional experience and mentoring as independent researchers for the next stage of their career development process. At MSU, in addition to senior research faculty mentors, post-doctoral researcher have an array of resources that have been designed to provide them with a highly supportive and stimulating collegial environment. For example, the MSU Office of Postdoctoral Training and the Post-doctoral Research Association will be a significant asset to candidates who have received appointments and are designing their post-doctoral Individual Development Plans (IDP).

In addition, the MSU Center for Academic and Future Faculty Excellence (CAFFE) provides an array of professional development courses, and the Office of International Studies and Programs will be particularly important for ASSISTID outgoing post-doctoral fellows in terms of resources and assistance. MSU also possesses a vast array of research resources that will enable the high quality implementation and completion of MSU-DOCTRID and ASSISTID projects. These additional resources include, but are not limited to, the Center for Statistical Analysis & Training (CSTAT), Office of Research Facilitation and Dissemination, Graduate School Professional Development Workshops, Responsible Conduct of Research Workshop Series, and a Carnegie Research I research library that contains over four million volumes and is fully accessible via the Internet.

The MSU-DOCTRID International Research Institute

The DOCTRID International Research Institute and their university partners are committed to a collaborative, international, interdisciplinary research model, designed to carry out ongoing research and empirical studies that will inform policy and practice and identify new evidence-based practices, including the impact of technology, that can be effective in the delivery of services to individuals with autism and significant intellectual disabilities. DOCTRID was established as a research program under RESPECT and Daughters of Charity (DoC) Board and encompasses the Daughters of Charity Disability Support Services, all of the universities on the island of Ireland, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Institute of Technology, Tralee (ITT) and two U.S. universities -- Michigan State University (MSU), and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It should be noted that MSU was the founding university member of DOCTRID when it was established in 2010.

MSU-DOCTRID Hegarty Fellows Program

The new Institute is designed to serve as a center of international research excellence in providing empirical research to help inform policy and practice in the area of intellectual disability and autism across the age continuum. In 2012, we received initial funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, Office of the Provost, and the College of Education at MSU. The funding from MSU is being used to fund three interdisciplinary post-doctoral research associates (MSU-DOCTRID Hegarty Fellows Program) who officially began their appointments with MSU in July of 2013, and are housed within the College of Education in the Office of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies.

These Hegarty Fellows are co-located at both MSU and a selected Irish partner university during their two-year research appointments with MSU-DOCTRID. In the fall of 2013, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon traveled to Ireland for the DOCTRID conference and announced that MSU plans to extend the Hegarty Fellows Program for an additional three years through 2019. This extraordinary level of support by the MSU President will mean that MSU-DOCTRID will be able to fund nine Hegarty Fellows over the next six years to work with DOCTRID. The generous support from MSU and RESPECT in funding international research fellows will make important, meaningful and sustainable impact on the quality of life or people with intellectual disabilities and autism on a global basis.

EU Marie Curie ASSISTID COFUND Program

This past spring DOCTRID was awarded funding for a large grant from the Marie Currie EU COFUND on Assistive Technologies for Individuals with Autism and Intellectual Disability that will provide funding for 40 additional post-doctoral researchers for the partner universities in DOCTRID. At MSU, we anticipate we will have multiple Marie Currie COFUND postdoctoral researchers appointed during each of the two waves of recruitment and selection for the five year grant, with the first group beginning their two year appointments with us in the spring of 2015. Candidates for these appointments will not only have access to MSU-DOCTRID, in terms of faculty mentors, Hegarty Fellows and resources developed for that program, but also within the larger scholarly community at MSU through the RAIND Institute, that will be described below.

Research in Autism, Intellectual and other Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (RAIND) Institute

The Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University has established a new interdisciplinary program of Research in Autism, Intellectual and other Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (RAIND). This cross college, interdisciplinary research institute was created in response to MSU’s work as a founding partner in the DOCTRID Research Institute on autism and intellectual disability, which has stimulated high interest and commitment in this area of research at MSU. The RAIND Institute will serve as a coalition of scholars and researchers from throughout the university already engaged in these areas of research to address critical needs in the area of autism, intellectual and other neurodevelopmental disabilities in order to make important, meaningful and sustainable impact on the quality of life of individuals with these disabilities on a global basis.  

Other unique features and approaches that cut across the thematic areas that distinguish the scope of work at MSU includes a focus on the entire age continuum, including adult populations, and our work within the entire functional spectrum, including those with the most significant disabilities.  Our applied work will also occur in natural settings (e.g., schools, rehabilitation centers, community agencies, home settings) and utilize, where appropriate, cutting edge technology in order to maximize translation of evidence-based findings to practice, and to fully take into consideration the impact of the environment on interventions and services for individuals with autism, intellectual and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. The RAIND Institute includes two distinct centers that are thematically driven from the five areas of research emphasis noted above. They include the Center on Epidemiology, Diagnosis and Assessment, and the Center on Evidence-Based Interventions Across the Life Span. In addition to the two centers, RAIND also has an internal Seed Grant Program designed to stimulate multidisciplinary projects across colleges and a Seminar Series that will provide ongoing professional development opportunities (workshops and seminars) for the more than 50 faculty and numerous post-doctoral research associates who are currently associated with the RAIND Institute. A new website has been designed for the RAIND Institute that includes biographical information and research interests for the more than 50 faculty, across colleges at MSU, that are involved in this interdisciplinary initiative.

In July 2013, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies put out an internal request for proposals for innovative interdisciplinary research projects that address the thematic research areas identified by the RAIND Institute. The Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies and the Colleges of Education, Human Medicine and Social Science, funded this competitive grant program that made six seed grant awards (approximately $100,000 each) to groups of scholars from across the university. These RAIND funded projects began in July 2014 and will be funded for two years.

In addition, this past year MSU hired 12 new scholars in the various colleges that are supporting the RAIND Institute that will focus on autism or intellectual disability in their respective research programs. These added faculty appointments underscore MSU’s total commitment to this area of research throughout the university and expands further our collective capacity to make a real difference in the quality of life of those individuals with autism, intellectual and other neurodevelopmental disabilities.

A faculty work group from across the university developed five comprehensive research themes that represent the capacity at MSU to address these needs consistent with research priorities established at the state, national and international levels, and parallel to the research mission of the DOCTRID Research Institute. The five themes, which are displayed in detail below, include: (1) Lifespan Developmental Issues, (2) Evidence-based Assessment and Diagnosis, (3) Evidence-based Treatment and Interventions, (4) Epidemiology, (5) Family, Societal and Environmental Issues. Each of these major theme areas is further defined below with examples of the specific types of research content in each of the five domains provided.

Theme 1: Lifespan Developmental Issues  -

  • Independent living and community participation/mobility
  • Education/learning across life span
  • Youth transition to adult service delivery settings
  • Social support group/social clubs
  • Employment/vocational rehabilitation (assessment, job readiness, supported employment)
  • Psychosocial adjustment and coping strategies
  • Health issues (incl. physical & mental health)
  • Impact of aging on function and needs of those with ASD and ID
  • Quality of life

Theme 2: Evidence-based Assessment & Diagnosis

  • Classification and severity (e.g., impact of changes in DSM-5, differential diagnosis)
  • Cross-cultural evaluation tools and diagnostic procedures (e.g., CARS2, MIGDAS, ADOS-2, ADI-R, ASRS)
  • Sensitive measures for ongoing monitoring of treatment progress
  • Accommodation for assessment
  • Development and validation of scales/checklist/other measures (incl. self-report and caregiver-report)
  • ASD behavioral profile
  • Functional behavioral assessments and analyses aimed at developing and implementing more precise and effective communication interventions for those with ASD.
  • Assessment of current services, practices, and general issues associated with the transition from K-12 programming to adult programming

Theme 3: Evidence-based Treatment & Interventions

  • Psychoeducational interventions (e.g., social skills and competence, empathy skills and competence, self-care skills, independent living skills, coping skills)
  • Behavioral Interventions (e.g., applied behavior analysis (ABA), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), imitation training, joint attention training, pivotal response training, peer-mediated interventions).
  • Technology-based interventions and supports (e.g., augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), computer applications and software, picture exchange communication systems (PECS), social robots, teleconferencing, video modeling, virtual reality, and wearable sensors)
  • Educational and therapeutic tools (e.g., communicative augmentative devices; apps for tablet devices/iPad/iPhone)
  • Application or development of strategies to decrease problem behaviors often observed in children and adults with ASD and ID
  • Vocational rehabilitation and rehabilitation counseling interventions and services
  • Sensory-based therapies (e.g., sensory integrative therapy, motor therapy)
  • Medical/pharmacologic (e.g., antidepressants, antipsychotics, hormones, and stimulants)
  • Other complementary/alternative therapies (e.g., dietary and nutritional supplements, mindfulness-based training, adaptive meditation, music/art/pet therapy)

Theme 4: Epidemiology

  • Registry system
  • Incidence and Prevalence rates
  • Comorbidity (e.g., ASD, ID, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, ADHD, anxiety, depression, emotional/behavioral disorders)
  • Environmental risk factors
  • Genetic risk factors and epigenetic processes
  • Longitudinal studies of neurocognitive and neurobehavioral profile
  • Longitudinal studies of healthy pregnancies and infants prior to recognition of autism and/or intellectual disability to assess environmental risk factors
  • Applied research with neuroscience components (e.g., utilize brain imaging techniques to monitor brain developmental over the course of intervention).

Theme 5: Family, Societal & Environmental Issues

  • Exploration of community needs relative to supporting young adults with ASD and ID
  • Community readiness for the wave of individuals who will soon transition (recent diagnostic increases came from increase at school-age)
  • Application of technology to disseminate evidence-based practices
  • Access to services and resources for children and adults
  • Impact on family (incl. caregiver & siblings)
  • Learn about parent/caregiver perspectives on the nature of educational and adult services (e.g., satisfaction/dissatisfaction with services) -
  • Identify the type of training obtained by educational professionals who provide services and supports to those with ASD and ID (e.g., special educators, general educators, paraprofessionals)
  • Societal stigma and bullying issues
  • Policy and legislation (e.g., implication of autism state plan)
  • Advocacy

Cultural impact on assessment and intervention (e.g., global comparison).

At MSU we are highly interested in hosting multiple Fellows from the EU Marie Curie ASSISTID Project during each wave of the recruitment and selection of post-doctoral candidates. For more information on what MSU has to offer post doctoral applicants to ASSISTID please see the web sites for the RAIND Institute https://vprgs.msu.edu/raind and the Office of Rehabilitation and Disability http://www.educ.msu.edu/cepse/rehab/

  • Key Contacts

    Professor Michael J. Leahy

    • Michigan State University PI for MSU-DOCTRID (Hegarty Fellows Program and EU Marie Curie ASSISTID Project).
    • Co-Director of RAIND and Director of the RAIND Center on Evidence-Based Interventions Across the Lifespan
    • Director, Office of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies
    • Email address: leahym@msu.edu


    University Distinguished Professor Nigel S. Paneth

    • Michigan State University Co-Director of RAIND and Director of the RAIND Center on Epidemiology, Diagnosis and Assessment
    • Email address: paneth@epi.msu.edu