Canisius College has received its largest grant in school history to continue its research on autism.

The four-year, $3.4 million federal grant has been awarded to the college’s Institute for Autism Research, which focuses on research and treatment for children on the autism spectrum.

More specifically, the grant from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Services will help Canisius evaluate the effectiveness of its new school-based intervention program – schoolMAX.

The growing number of students diagnosed with high-functioning autism disorders is posing a major challenge for schools, explained Christopher Lopata, codirector of the institute.

SchoolMAX mixes psychology and education to help elementary students diagnosed with high-functioning autism disorders by teaching them appropriate social and communication skills to lessen their symptoms.

The institute’s early pilot studies have been promising, according to the researchers.

“Children demonstrated increased knowledge and use of social skills, a greater ability to read facial and emotional expressions in others and a substantial decrease in the severity of autism spectrum disorder symptoms,” said codirector Marcus Thomeer.

The grant will fund trials involving 96 elementary students from around the Buffalo region, their teachers and parents.

This is the second grant awarded by Education Department to the Canisius researchers. The institute – established in 2009 – previously received a $1.2 million grant to pilot test its school-based intervention program.