Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute


Contact Information

Meaghan Latifi, Program Coordinator
Nina Zuna, Director

Students in special education, general education, psychology, speech, and related fields who are interested in participating in TRELLIS can download an informational flyer.


The Transition Research Excellence for Life-Long Independence With Supports (TRELLIS) project is an interdisciplinary research, training, and clinical practice site for students at The University of Texas at Austin who are the following:

  • Practicing or future professionals in a disability-related field
  • Interested in supporting individuals with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families in transition and adult outcomes planning

TRELLIS provides research, training, and clinical practice across four key areas:

  • Instruction: Education, life skills, social skills, leisure, employment, and self-care
  • Behavior: Assessment and intervention (and BCBA supervision hours for UT students)
  • Communication: Assessment and intervention
  • Transition: Assessment and support

Many stakeholders have found the project to be valuable. Video testimonials about the experiences of students, project participants, community partners, and parents are available in the MCPER Library.


The long-term vision of TRELLIS is to make significant and sustainable advances in state and national transition practices to ensure that every student with significant I/DD experiences a successful school-to-adult transition and the opportunity to attain an enviable quality of life.


TRELLIS aims to become a leader in transition and adult outcomes planning for individuals with significant I/DD through providing exceptional education, research, training, and clinical practice within a university setting for current and future professionals while serving individuals with significant I/DD and their families.


Families are First and Foremost

Families are a core unit of society and the enduring system of support for individuals with disabilities throughout their lifespan.

Family Quality of Life Matters

Targeted systems of support should be provided not only to the individual with a disability but also to the family to enhance quality of life for all family members.

Inclusion Advances Equity

TRELLIS embraces inclusive practices to support families in creating individualized, equitable, and enviable lives for their family member with a disability.

Independence Opens Doors

Whether the goal is full or partial independence, improving independence—both functionally and behaviorally—is the foundation for accessing employment and experiencing the adult life.

Self-Determination Empowers

Ensuring the person with a disability is taught self-determination skills honors their interests and choices, so they have a voice in the creation of their adult life.

To promote a high quality of life for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and other developmental disabilities, researchers of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute conduct cutting-edge research related to assessments and interventions in the core areas, facilitate promising service projects with interdisciplinary collaboration, and engage in community activities with cooperative partnership. (To read about the institute's Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities project, select the corresponding tab above.)

Treatment of ASDs

Effects of a Motivating Operation Manipulation on the Maintenance and Generalization of Mands

Maintenance and generalization of newly acquired behaviors are important indicators of mastery. Two studies examined how presession reinforcer access affects the maintenance and generalization of newly acquired mands (i.e, how to make requests) for students with autism. Two conditions were compared: prior access to items maintaining communicative behaviors or restricted access to items in each maintenance and generalization condition. Results suggested that higher levels of requesting are maintained and generalized when access to items was restricted (i.e., the no-presession access condition established the value of the reinforcer and evoked response relative to the presession access condition). Therefore, therapists and teachers should be attentive to motivating operations when assessing for maintenance and generalization.

O'Reilly, M., Aguilar, J., Fragale, C., Lang, R., Edrisinha, C., Sigafoos, J., . . . Didden, R. (2012). Effects of a motivating operation manipulation on the maintenance and generalization of mands. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 45, 443–447.

Fragale, C., O'Reilly, M., Aguilar, J., Pierce, N., Lang, R., Sigafoos, J., & Lancioni, G. (2012). The influence of motivating operations on generalization probes of specific mands by children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 45, 565–577.

Functional Communication Training to Treat Challenging Behavior in Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism Related to Interruptions of Ongoing Activities

This study first demonstrated that severe challenging behavior of individuals with ASDs (Asperger syndrome, high-functioning autism) was occasioned by interruptions of ongoing activities and maintained by terminations of those interruptions. A treatment was developed and evaluated in which the individuals were taught to appropriately request uninterrupted time. In addition, the individuals were taught to tolerate interruptions of ongoing activities to help them cope with those situations. The results of the study indicated that the intervention effectively treated the severe challenging behavior.

Falcomata, T. S., Roane, H. S., Muething, C. S., Stephenson, K. M., & Ing, A. D. (2012). Functional communication training and chained schedules of reinforcement to treat destructive behavior maintained by terminations of activity interruptions. Behavior Modification, 36, 630–649.

Functional Communication Training to Simultaneously Treat Multiple Functions of Challenging Behavior in ASDs

This study first demonstrated that severe challenging behavior demonstrated by an individual with an ASD served multiple functions, including attention, access to preferred activities, and escape from nonpreferred activities. A treatment was developed and evaluated in which the individual was taught to request times in which all three preferred outcomes were available. Further, the individual was taught to tolerate progressively longer periods of time in which those preferred outcomes were not available. The results of the study indicated that the intervention effectively treated the severe challenging behavior and was effective at promoting tolerance of delays to access to preferred outcomes that previously maintained the severe challenging behavior.

Falcomata, T. S., White, P., Muething, C. S., & Fragale, C. (2012). A functional communication training and chained schedule procedure to treat challenging behavior with multiple functions. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 6, 529–538.

Effects of Tangible and Social Reinforcers on Learning in Children With ASDs

Children with ASDs are more likely to engage in inappropriate play (e.g., stereotypy, repetitive behavior) with their preferred items given as reinforcers. Considering that stereotyped behavior is a core characteristic of ASDs that practitioners aim to reduce, it is necessary to identify alternative reinforcers that do not encourage problematic behavior and are still effective. This study evaluated a possible alternative reinforcer: social interaction. The study compared the effects of preferred tangible and social reinforcers on skill acquisition, stereotyped behavior, and task engagement in three children, ages 3 to 8, with ASDs. The results suggest that the reinforcers were equally effective; however, tangible reinforcers resulted in high levels of stereotyped behavior. The study suggests that social reinforcers can be efficient reinforcers for individuals with ASDs.

Kang, S., O’Reilly, M., Rojeski, L., Blenden, K., Xu, Z., Davis, T., . . . Lancioni, G. (2013). Effects of tangible and social reinforcers on skill acquisition, stereotyped behavior, and task engagement in three children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34, 739–744.


Relationship Between Preference Assessment Procedures and Challenging Behavior

Preference assessment is a systematic procedure to identify individuals’ preferred items or activities that subsequently serve as reinforcers. This study compared the occurrence of challenging behaviors maintained by access to tangible items across three preference assessment procedures: paired stimulus, multiple stimulus without replacement, and free operant. The study found that challenging behavior maintained by a particular reinforcer occurred more in one format, which involved the removal of items from children, than others. The results indicate that format selection could help to prevent challenging behavior during preference assessments and to obtain accurate preference information.

Kang, S., Lang, R., O’Reilly, M., Davis, T. N., Machalicek, W., Rispoli,
 M. J., & Chan, J. (2010). Problem behavior during preference assessments: An empirical 
analysis and practical recommendations. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43, 137–141.

Examination of the Role of Challenging Behavior Maintained by Socially Mediated Reinforcement in ASDs, Using a Modification to Standard Functional Analysis Procedures

This study collected the rates of stereotypy and appropriate play of individuals with ASDs during an extended functional analysis tangible condition (access to their preferred items). The study demonstrated that children whose challenging behavior was maintained by access to preferred items used these items to engage in stereotypy. The results indicate the complex nature of challenging behavior related to the core features of individuals with ASDs.

White, P., O’Reilly, M., Fragale, C., Kang, S., Muhich, K., Falcomata, T., . . . Lancioni, G. (2011). An extended functional analysis protocol assesses the role of stereotypy in aggression in two young children with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5, 784–789.

Communication Intervention

iPod Use to Enhance Speech and Communication for Individuals With ASDs

This study demonstrated the viability of using an iPod as a communication aid for individuals with ASDs. This preliminary research demonstrated that practitioners can use the commonly available device in innovative ways to help this population.

Kagohara, D. M., van der Meer, L., Achmadi, D., Green, V. A., O'Reilly, M. F., Mulloy, A., . . . Sigafoos, J. (2010). Behavioral intervention promotes successful use of an iPod-based communication device by an adolescent with autism. Clinical Case Studies, 9, 328–338.

Computer-Based Intervention to Improve Communication Skills in Individuals With ASDs

This study provided a systematic analysis of studies investigating computer-based interventions to improve communication skills in students with ASDs. This review synthesized intervention outcomes, appraised the certainty of evidence, and described software features and system requirements for each intervention.

Ramdoss, S., Lang, R., Mulloy, A., Franco, J., O'Reilly, M., Didden, R., & Lancioni, G. (2011). Use of computer-based interventions to teach communication skills to children with autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Journal of Behavioral Education, 20, 55–76.

Other Research

Chelation Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review

Chelation is a treatment to remove specific metals from the body. In the recent years, chelation has been used as a treatment for ASDs. This study systematically identified studies that have evaluated the effects of chelation on the core symptoms of autism: communication impairments, social skills deficits, and repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. Four of the five studies identified found mixed results and only one study reported positive results. Moreover, the studies contained many weaknesses that prevent the ability to attribute changes in participant characteristics or behaviors solely to chelation. Because of the limited number of studies and the significant limitations of these studies, this review does not support the use of chelation as a treatment for ASDs.

Davis, T. N., O’Reilly, M., Kang, S., Lang, R., Rispoli, M., Sigafoos, J., . . . Mulloy, A. (2013). Chelation treatment for autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7, 49–55.

Effectiveness of Gluten- and Casein-Free Diets in Treatment of ASDs

Institute researchers published a review of the scientific literature on the use of gluten-free and casein-free diets in the treatment of ASDs. The review—published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, an international, peer-reviewed journal—indicates a lack of empirical support for the use of the popular diet to treat ASDs. This review has been featured on many news and trade websites and publications.

Mulloy, A., Lang, R., O’Reilly, M., Sigafoos, J., Lancioni, G., & Rispoli, M. (2010). Gluten-free and casein-free diets in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 328–339.

Parent-Reported Treatment Priorities for Children With ASDs

Institute researchers surveyed parents of children with ASDs to determine how the parents prioritized treatment options. Two major findings were reported. First, the primary treatment priorities matched the core features of ASDs: communication and social functioning. However, parents also identified behaviors in domains not directly related to these core symptoms—including academics, community living, vocational skills, and recreation and leisure skills—as important to target. Second, although most treatment priorities aligned with areas in which the children struggled the most, parents also targeted skill domains, including domestic living, community living, and job skills, independent of their children’s skill level. These findings suggest that parents may use different types of logic to guide treatment program development.

Pituch, K. A., Green, V. A., Didden, R., Lang, R., O’Reilly, M. F., Lancioni, G. E., & Sigafoos, J. (2011). Parent reported treatment priorities for children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5, 135–143.

How to Involve Families in Educational Decision Making

Nina Zuna, a fellow in the Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute, co-authored an article with researchers from the Beach Center on Disability at the University of Kansas that explores how to help families join professionals in the educational decision-making process. The article, Knowledge-to-Action Guides: Preparing Families to be Partners in Making Educational Decisions, appears in the January/February 2010 issue of Teaching Exceptional Children, a journal published by the Council for Exceptional Children.

Families often do not have the financial resources to subscribe to academic journals, the time to read them, or the expertise to evaluate a practice according to the “gold standards” of evidence-based practice. The authors asked, “How can families be equal decision-makers if they do not have access to the information they need to make informed decisions?” The article is available for download from the Beach Center website.

This article is an installment of the Knowledge-to-Action Guides, which provide families with access to top-tier research, experience-based knowledge, and current policy on relevant educational topics. Knowledge-to-Action Guides are available for free to families and professionals.

Turnbull, A. P., Zuna, N., Hong, J. Y., Hu, X., Kyzar, K., Obremski, S., . . . Stowe, M. (2010). Knowledge-to-action guides: Preparing families to be partners in making educational decisions. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(3), 42–53.


Early-Intervention Initiative With Austin Travis County Integral Care 

This initiative focuses on early interventions for ASDs based on applied behavior analysis. Several graduate students from The University of Texas at Austin work on the project. For more information, contact Jeannie Aguilar.

International Scholars

The Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute has established international links by collaborating with outstanding scholars in the areas of ASDs and developmental disabilities, including scholars with Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and the University of Bari in Italy.

Transition Research Excellence for Life Long Independence With Supports (TRELLIS)

TRELLIS is a partnership with the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders Speech and Hearing Clinic at The University of Texas at Austin. It is an interdisciplinary research, training, and clinical practice site that focuses on transition and adult outcome planning for individuals with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities. UT Austin graduate students work on the project. For more information, contact Meaghan Latifi.

Other Activities

Presentation to Department of Family and Protective Services

Dr. Amanda Little, assistant professor in early childhood special education and a fellow of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute, delivered a presentation on the characteristics, diagnostic information, evidence-based practices, services and supports, and transition issues related to ASDs. Developmental disability specialists from across Texas with the Department of Family and Protective Services attended the presentation.

Workshop in Missouri

Dr. Terry Falcomata, assistant professor in special education and a fellow of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute, conduced a workshop for psychologists, teachers, and administrators at the Missouri Association for Behavior Analysis Annual Conference in November 2009. Falcomata’s workshop focused on function-based approaches to the assessment and treatment of problem behavior for individuals with autism and developmental disabilities.

Distinguished Lecture in New Zealand

Dr. Mark O’Reilly, Mollie Villeret Davis professor in learning disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute director, delivered a lecture to the College of Education at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, in October 2009. O’Reilly discussed the professional training of teachers to work with children with ASDs. Faculty members and students from the College of Education and School of Psychology and members of the New Zealand ministries of Education and Health attended the lecture.

Service on Subcommittee for Act Early Strategic Plan

Dr. Ann Levine, a member of the Texas Child Study Center and a fellow of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute, served as a member of the Act Early Subcommittee for the Act Early Strategic Plan. The recommendations of this subcommittee were given to the Texas Council for Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders.

Planning Session for Statewide Center

Dr. Nina Zuna, assistant professor of special education and a fellow of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute, attended a state-level planning meeting in Corpus Christi, organized by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, to discuss the development of a Texas Autism Research and Resource Center. The center would disseminate information and research regarding autism and other pervasive developmental disorders, conduct training, coordinate with local entities that provide autism services, and support families.