A project that has served individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families for nearly a decade at the University of Maine is getting a new name and taking on a broader mission.
The Maine Autism Institute for Education and Research will now be Maine Access to Inclusive Education Resources (MAIER).
Established in 2014 with financial support from the Maine Department of Education, MAIER has sought to improve outcomes for individuals with autism in Maine throughout the spectrum and lifecycle by building statewide capacity for leadership, training, professional development, technical assistance, collaborative consultation, technology and research.
That work will continue as MAIER’s mission expands. The project will now serve as an information and resource clearinghouse that will assist professionals and families in accessing and navigating programs and services related to inclusive education of all students with disabilities. It will aim to ensure that educators and other service providers, as well as families and individuals with disabilities, receive information about practices to promote inclusion that are grounded in research.
Maine DOE’s Office of Special Services and Inclusive Education is providing MAIER with grant funding of nearly $632,000 over the next three years to carry out this mission.
“We’re excited that our partnership with Maine DOE will continue, and that MAIER will be able to touch the lives of more people in Maine by improving inclusive education and services throughout the state,” says Sarah Howorth, MAIER director and assistant professor of special education at the UMaine College of Education and Human Development.
“MAIER is one of many programs in our college that support positive inclusive outcomes for schools and students across Maine,” Howorth adds. “As part of the flagship university in the University of Maine System, we are continually looking to maximize the impact of our research, collaborations and engagement with educators, families and other service providers.”
Howorth says MAIER’s service to the state will be guided by four aspects of high-leverage practices to promote inclusion and equity in education for people with disabilities: collaboration, assessment, social/emotional/behavioral, and instruction. Future MAIER training and professional development topics will include improving access to inclusive post-school opportunities and employment for individuals with disabilities, inclusive teaching practices, and multi-tiered behavioral supports to serve those who are at-risk or have identified disabilities.
“Inclusion is vital to the development of all students from preschool through high school and beyond,” says Tracy Whitlock, special projects coordinator with the Maine Department of Education Office of Special Services and Inclusive Education. “We are proud to collaborate with the University of Maine on this work that will lead to stronger Maine communities.”
Among MAIER’s accomplishments during its first eight years was the establishment of an Early Start Maine program that provided early intervention services to nearly 400 toddlers and preschoolers with autism throughout the state. Based on the Early Start Denver Model, MAIER staff also trained 34 early intervention providers with Maine Child Development Services, which assumed oversight of the program in 2020.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, MAIER saw an increase in the number of educators and other professionals utilizing its professional development offerings. In 2019–20, there were 354 total participants in MAIER’s online training modules. That number went up to more than 1,000 participants from around the country in 202–21.
“As both a parent and an educator, I have been fortunate enough to utilize many of MAIER’s program offerings,” says Angela Lundy, a special education teacher at Mary Snow School in Bangor. “From professional development to PEERS social skills training with my son, MAIER is an invaluable resource for Maine families.”
In addition to the name change, MAIER recently transitioned to new leadership. Howorth took over as director after Deborah Rooks-Ellis, who started the project and led it for eight years, accepted a position at Coastal Carolina University. Longtime MAIER research associate Donna Doherty retired last year as well. Anica Miller-Rushing is MAIER’s new research associate and family partnership director. Miller-Rushing, who earned her Ph.D. in STEM Education from UMaine in 2022, will lead collaborations, manage programming and professional development, and support MAIER’s research agenda.
More information about MAIER can be found on the project website, umaine.edu/maier.