SARRC, Great Hearts Academies Partner for Autism Screening Project

Great Hearts Academies October 22, 2018

The Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation Award funding to expand ‘Screening in Schools’ statewide

PHOENIX — Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism. Many children are not identified until after the age of 6, which is why Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) is collaborating with Great Hearts Academies on an autism screening initiative.

SARRC and Great Hearts are taking an innovative approach through the “Screening In Schools” project that aims to screen students—who may have been misdiagnosed or undiagnosed—by identifying social challenges to then prompt a formal autism evaluation. Primarily they are seeking to identify students who would fit an Asperger’s profile – typical or advanced language development and academic functioning, but who experience social difficulties that can lead to serious functional impairments. Asperger’s disorder is now included in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“Even if language develops appropriately, ASD causes significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, which are often unnoticed by parents until after the child begins to experience rejection by peers, bullying, decline in academic performance or co-occurring disorders, such as depression and anxiety. However, it might be possible to prevent—or at least minimize—the impact of these social challenges on children’s lives by detecting ASD before other problems emerge and implementing appropriate interventions to address the underlying social disorder,” says Christopher J. Smith, PhD, vice president and research director at SARRC.

female teacher helping a student at her desk

Thanks to a generous $450,000 grant awarded by The Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation, SARRC will expand Screening In Schools to every academy in the Great Hearts-Arizona network, over a three-year period. 

In total, through the two-year project an estimated 4,700 screenings will be conducted across eleven elementary and middle schools Great Hearts Academies schools where SARRC will provide a coordinated effort to educate, train and support teachers and administrative staff on how to administer our validated screening tool in second-, fourth- and eighth-grade classrooms.

Dr. Smith adds, “People think of ASD as a disorder that is identified in very young children. While that’s true, people of any age can be diagnosed with ASD. In our diagnostic program, we see teens and adults with serious difficulties. In this project we’re hoping to identify and support these students long before more impactful problems emerge.”

This project was first established in 2014 as a pilot study, since published in the Journal of Applied School Psychology, which specifically studied the effectiveness of a tool called Social Challenges Screening Questionnaire, used in the Screening In Schools project—developed and tested by SARRC.

“We’re extremely grateful to The Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation for funding this important work,” says Dr. Smith. “With this vital financial support, we’re confident we can make a bigger impact and model effectiveness of social screening for other schools to adapt.”



Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) is an internationally recognized nonprofit that conducts innovative research, provides evidence-based practices, disseminates effective training and builds inclusive communities for individuals with autism and their families. For more information, visit


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