People Behind Our Research: Lisa Ruble (May, 2016)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 25, 2016) — Lisa Ruble, a professor in the University of Kentucky College of Education’s Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology, has a palpable passion for what she studies: autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“For me, research has become advocacy,” Ruble said. “I am really interested in how we can improve services.”

The former microbiologist admits she never even thought about becoming a professor, and definitely never dreamed that one day, her work would center on psychology. In fact she avoided any and all psychology classes during college.

“I thought psychology wasn’t really a science from research because of different theories regarding autism, and I had a personal connection with autism,” Ruble said.

Lisa has a younger sister with autism.

“Back then the theory that was given as the cause of autism was due to the mother and the mother-child interaction, that the mother was rejecting the child and as a result the child withdrew within him or herself,” Ruble said. “So those were old behavioral theories but were still being espoused and I was really kind of taken aback and shocked.”

But once she was working as a microbiologist, curiosity drove her to actually sign up to take a psychology class on the side.

“So that led me in the direction of reading more of the research in autism, taking information to the professor and then examining the other things going on in my own personal life with my sister, Leslie,” Ruble said.

That first class became the foundation for a new career.

“I went back and took a lot of classes in psychology one semester and I fell in love with it,” Ruble said. “Recognizing that we really didn’t have a lot of (autism) research, I went ahead and switched careers from microbiology into psychology of all things.”

She earned her master’s degree in rehabilitative psychology. What she observed opened up her eyes.

“You might have somebody with a disability but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a handicap,” Ruble said. “They can have an impairment so they might have some kind of challenge but with the right resources in the environment they can overcome that and be as much of a participant as anybody else, so that pushed me into asking how we could enhance the environment and provide more support from the environment to help people.”

As she worked to form an autism treatment program at Vanderbilt University and an autism outpatient program at the University of Louisville, she saw firsthand the many obstacles for families navigating autism.

“By seeing the challenges that families face in trying to get services, the challenges that teachers have in providing the best quality educational program, the challenges that service providers have in meeting the unique needs of children and adults with autism and how parents have to negotiate all these different things really kept pushing me into the area of services research and implementation science research in autism,” Ruble said.

All of these clinical and personal experiences led her to collaborate with a former professor to land a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded project to study environment supports for autistic children inside schools.

“So it was after that first (NIH) funding that really led me to think, ‘ok, maybe I am a researcher,’” Ruble said.

Her work inside schools continues to center around the Collaborative Model for Promoting Competence and Success (COMPASS).

“My current research is focused on trying to really work with parents and teachers to develop meaningful goals for that student or that child with autism, develop intervention plans based on the goals, and then to support that teacher in the implementation of those plans before finally comparing the outcomes based on children who have COMPASS and those who do not.”

Watch the video above to understand what makes this type of research unique and why Ruble’s personal connection to autism continues to motivate her work.

Video produced by UK Public Relations and Marketing.


Autism Research at UK: A Conversation with Dr. Lisa Ruble (November, 2015)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 19, 2015) — Chase Cavanaugh discusses autism research with Dr. Lisa Ruble, a professor of Psychology at the University of Kentucky. Ruble is currently evaluating COMPASS, an intervention model that provides teachers and clinicians with a common set of skills to use when treating children with autism. Cavanaugh also had the chance to speak with Haley Bishop and Alexis Rodgers, two of Ruble’s research assistants.


Grant will allow UK researchers to help students with autism build a life after high school (October, 2014)

LEXINGTON, KY (Oct. 19, 2014)– Valarie Honeycutt Spears discusses University of Kentucky researchers looking at what students with autism can do to build a life after high school. The National Institute of Mental Health has awarded a $693,000 grant to UK College of Education professor Lisa Ruble and a cross-disciplinary team of co-investigators at UK and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.


College of Education Autism Research Yields Effective Model, Clinic for Children With ASD (November, 2013)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 5, 2013) — With the support of an innovative research model, a clinic devoted to individualized intervention approaches for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been making huge impacts in the lives of Central Kentucky children and their families.

The Center for Autism Spectrum Evaluation, Service, and Research (CASPER) opened at the University of Kentucky last fall as part of the UK College of Education’s Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology.  The clinic provides psychological services and support for children, youth and adults with ASD by integrating a variety of models that use best practices and outcome-based research. One of these models, the “Collaborative Model for Promoting Competence and Success for Students with ASD,” or COMPASS, was developed by a team of researchers including Lisa Ruble, professor in the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology and co-director of the clinic.

“The elements of COMPASS that are being applied within CASPER are a focus on family-centered services that help address social, communication, and self-directed skills necessary for quality of life,” said Ruble, who co-authored the book “COMPASS,” after NIH-funded studies revealed that the model results in improved educational outcomes for children with ASD.

What makes COMPASS so innovative is that it’s the first consulting framework to be validated by using controlled experiments and objective, trained evaluators of students with ASD. By emphasizing an individualized assessment for each student’s needs based on his/her life experiences and family and teacher input, the model includes standard protocols, scripts, forms and case examples on which teachers and caregivers can base their program.

Jonathan Campbell, co-director of the clinic, serves as head of diagnostic services. He says the need for this type of clinic in Central Kentucky is even greater than faculty realized originally. There are currently 66 children and adolescents on a waiting list for diagnostic evaluations.

“It’s a mixed reaction for me,” Campbell said, “seeing such a great need, but also knowing we have the opportunity to work with these children and families and, hopefully, make a difference in their lives.”

Campbell also emphasized the importance of training future professionals to provide high quality services to children and families affected by autism.

“Our goal is to train professionals and hopefully leaders that know about ASD and know about good clinical services for kids and families affected by autism,” he said. “By teaching our students how to do these things, we extend our impact and influence.”

While Ruble and Campbell oversee the clinic, day-to-day operations are run by UK graduate students. Since November 2012, these students completed 69 intake interviews for individuals with autism from 16 Kentucky counties. Twenty-three individuals received services provided by school psychology graduate students.

April Sigler, a graduate student in school psychology, is co-leading a social skills group for middle school boys with ASD, and finds the overall clinical experience very rewarding, personally and academically.

“It is exciting to be a part of such an important addition to our community because the CASPER clinic is not only helping families, but giving graduate clinicians the chance to practice our diagnostic and intervention skills,” Sigler said. “With the prevalence in ASD diagnoses increasing rapidly over the past few years, it is really important to me and the rest of the students and faculty at UK to be able to disseminate accurate information about ASD to the families in our community and provide evidence-based interventions so that they have the knowledge and skills to be the best they can be.”

Traci Boyd is a parent whose son Eli has ASD.  While they have only been coming to CASPER for a few weeks, she says they have already noticed a positive change.

“Just last Wednesday, the kids learned relaxation techniques; that night, Eli had a meltdown while doing homework,” Boyd said. “We were able to use one of the techniques that they taught him to calm down. He has never been able to ‘self-calm’ before, so this was huge for us. I am enjoying it, too, because I get to spend time with parents in similar situations to mine. We are able to share experiences and suggestions with each other. That has been a God-send.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Jenny Wells, (859) 257-5343;


University of Kentucky Press Release (March 2013)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 12, 2013) — Students with Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology in the University of Kentucky College of Education.

Ruble is one of five researchers involved in the study, “A Randomized Controlled Trial of COMPASS Web-Based and Face-to-Face Teacher Coaching in Autism,” which was recently published in the Journal for Consulting and Counseling Psychology.

COMPASS, which stands for “Collaborative Model for Promoting Competence and Success for Students with ASD,” is a training and consulting model for teachers, caregivers and parents of children with autism.  The study reveals that COMPASS results in improved educational outcomes for children with ASD, and also shows that technologies such as web-based videoconferencing is just as effective as face-to-face interactions for facilitating access to autism specialists.

“Practitioners working with children with ASD, particularly in child and school psychology, special education, rehabilitation,

MEDIA CONTACT: Jenny Wells, (859) 257-5343;


IUPUI Press Release

Faculty Book Proposes New Education Model for Children With Autism
Release Date:  Oct 18 2012

Students with autism have the best chances of success in school through an individualized education model that involves teachers, service providers and parents, according to a new book co-authored by John McGrew, Ph.D., and a psychology professor at IUPUI.

McGrew, who also serves as the director of the Clinical Psychology Program in Department of Psychology, is one of three researchers involved in the book, “Collaborative Model for Promoting Competence and Success for Students with ASD,”(autism spectrum disorder). Co-authors include Lisa A. Ruble and Nancy J. Dalrymple.

The book outlines the COMPASS program, a training and consulting model for teachers, caregivers and parents of children with autism. In it, the authors emphasize an individualized assessment for each student’s needs based on his/her life experiences and family and teacher input. The book includes standard protocols, scripts, forms and case examples on which caregivers can base their program.

Trained consultants at each school will be able to direct the diverse team of influencers and caregivers to optimize the chances of success for children with autism, he said.

“This model provides a system to help people think through how to approach each student individually and base treatment and education decisions on what is best for these kids,” said McGrew, who has a 20-year-old son with autism.

“The idea is to help teachers and families make decisions that are critical to helping these students advance in life,” he added.

COMPASS is the first consulting framework to be validated by using controlled experiments and objective, trained evaluators of students with ASD, McGrew said. Many schools place students with ASD into special education classrooms, but the COMPASS model attempts to balance the strengths and weakness of a student and measure each level of success individually.

The book uses research and field testing completed during the past 20 years to form the model. Many past education models were not validated through comparable research, he added.

“The truth is a lot of these kids can go way beyond what is expected of them while others will need around-the-clock care. Each child with autism is different, and this model takes that variability into account,” McGrew said.