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Jan Blacher

Director, SEARCH Center
Professor of Education

Jan Blacher
Autism
Today it is estimated that one out of every 110 children — including one in 70 boys — will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the United States alone. And the need for access to appropriate medical and educational support services is even greater. Through SEARCH, Blacher is providing advocacy, support services and education and helping families whose lives have been forever changed by autism.

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • Autism
  • Developmental Disabilities
  • Mental Retardation
  • Special Education Policy
College: Affiliations: Press Release/Article: Profile:

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • American Association for the Advancement of Science, Psychology (2006)
  • International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities (2004)
  • American Psychological Association Fellow (Division 33, Mental Retardation)
  • American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) Fellow

Research Summary

Providing advocacy, support services and education to families of children and young adults with developmental disabilities; how families cope in a cultural context; issues of dual diagnosis in Anglo and Latino families; and the transition to adulthood for young adults with severe retardation and their families.

Q&A

Q: What is autism? How many children are diagnosed with autism?
Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that is recognizable by the second year of life. It affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills. One in every 110 children born in the United States will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or ASD — this represents a 600 percent increase over the past two decades. But what is increasingly called an epidemic is also an enigma — no one knows for certain why this is happening. We do know, however, that the children’s lives are forever affected along with those of their family members, educators and friends.

Q: What is SEARCH?
New solutions to the growing problem of autism require a fresh, collaborative approach toward educating families, teachers, researchers and policy makers — SEARCH, a non-profit family autism resource center. SEARCH stands for Support, Education, Advocacy, Resources, Community, and Hope for families who have children with autism. Our focus is on helping all families and children to navigate the continuum of educational needs from diagnosis through early childhood, school age, adolescence and the transition to adulthood.

Q: Why is your work important?
Over the last 30 years my studies of hundreds of families who had children with disabilities have revealed a number of things, but the following tends to invoke particular relevance:

1. Parents of children with autism experience heightened parenting stress due to behavior problems. Through this finding we now know how to intervene to help reduce the behavior problems and hopefully reduce the parent’s stress.

2. A positive perception about raising a child with disabilities makes a difference. Positive perceptions buffer the impact of the mother’s level of stress or depression. Interventions for parents use to center only on parenting skills, now we also focus on positive ways of viewing the experience.

3. Teachers report poorer relationships with students with autism than those with typical development. This bodes poorly for children’s future school success. At SEARCH, we are embarking on a new study of the early school experience of children with autism that will hopefully build more positive relationships with their teachers.

Q: What is the ultimate goal of your research?
Our newer work on student-teacher-relationships is intended to determine conditions under which children with ASD adapt best to early schooling. Findings from this study will be used to develop a parent- and teacher-focused intervention program to be conducted in public schools and concentrated on the transition to kindergarten. Ultimately, we hope that the findings will inform practices in teacher training programs.

Q: How does your research affect public policy?
The SEARCH staff and doctoral students have been involved in the statewide Autism Regional Task force effort. SEARCH, together with the Riverside County Office of Education, mobilized advocates, professionals, stakeholders and academics in the Inland Empire to give a voice to autism priorities, such as early diagnosis, treatment and intervention of children with intellectual disabilities before they develop a mental health disorder and require residential care.

Q: What does “Living the Promise” mean to you?
It means, that we as faculty, have a moral and educational obligation to provide transformative experiences for our students, by teaching them the best way we know how, and by imparting our own skills in our respective fields.

Q: How do your students inspire you?
Students keep us very focused on the present and serve as constant reminders of the future, and of the importance and relevance of our own work. Almost every year a student shares a story about growing up with a brother or sister with a disability. Of late, I have had students who themselves have a form of high functioning autism, and they are very excited that SEARCH now exists on the UCR campus.

Q: In your spare time, what are you reading (books, blogs, Twitter accounts, websites, etc.) What makes these interesting for you?
In part, due to my interest in families’ research, I find myself gravitating toward fictional books that focus on the parenting context or on intergenerational effects of some kind of stressor (divorce, abuse, disability, autism), such as “My Hollywood; Anywhere But Here” and “Run, The Magician’s Assistant.”
Jan Blacher “But what is increasingly called an autism epidemic is also an enigma — no one knows for certain why this is happening.”

—Jan Blacher
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