A UCR SEARCH Center staffer works with an autistic child
March 29, 2022

Families of children with autism can get free help from UC Riverside’s SEARCH Center

Inland Empire families don’t have to wade through school and service systems alone

Author: Holly Ober
March 29, 2022

Families of children with autism often must navigate an ocean of contradictory or hard to access information and services to get the support they need to help their children thrive. UC Riverside’s SEARCH Center, housed in the School of Education, helps families wade through the school and service systems for youth with autism spectrum disorder. This is particularly important for minority families, whose children with or at-risk of autism can be overlooked or misdiagnosed by local service agencies.

SEARCH is the University of California's first family autism resource center focused exclusively on educational needs, including educational access and family impact. Short for support, education, advocacy, resources, community and hope, the SEARCH center serves families who have children with autism spectrum disorder, as well as individuals with autism themselves.

“Our goal is to help reduce the stress that families experience in attempting to learn about autism and to access appropriate educational programs and services in the Inland Empire,” said SEARCH director Jan Blacher, a distinguished research professor in the School of Education. “We are guided by the belief that every family deserves access to available resources, regardless of race, language, or socioeconomic status.”

The SEARCH center conducts an autism screening clinic by appointment, community outreach activities, and hosts an archive of online information for Inland Empire residents. Their services, which are provided without cost, are aimed at assessing and finding referrals for children with autism spectrum disorder and serving low-income and/or Spanish-speaking families. Screening generally includes the assessment of autism spectrum disorder by trained faculty, advanced graduate students, and consultants who are certified in autism gold standard assessments, behavior problems, and intellectual and adaptive functioning. 

SEARCH team members also conduct research. They are currently analyzing data from nearly 200 children ages 4-7 diagnosed with autism or autism spectrum disorder. The goal of the study is to identify factors that contribute to positive experiences in early schooling for children on the spectrum. One of the key factors identified was a positive student-teacher relationship. This is especially important for those young children with autism spectrum disorder in general education classes. Based on this data, SEARCH is developing interventions to improve student-teacher relationships.

Now in an exciting new direction, SEARCH aims to develop services for autistic college and graduate students on campus, to be implemented under advisement from autistic individuals.  These services are also highlighted in the soon-to-be-launched Autism Goes to College Online Resource Center, and featured in the Autism Goes to College Podcasts. Autism Goes to College is an award-winning, SEARCH-produced documentary that features five college students on the autism spectrum, including two UCR graduates, who talk about their postsecondary experiences, challenges, and successes. 

Founded in 2008, SEARCH was originally funded by a gift from the Barona Band of Mission Indians Tribe, along with other private sources, and with support from the Graduate School of Education. SEARCH is now funded by charitable foundations, individuals, funds from the Eady Endowment and grant. 

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