Original Paper

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 597-609

First online:

Bridging the Research-to-Practice Gap in Autism Intervention: An Application of Diffusion of Innovation Theory

  • Hilary E. DingfelderAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania Email author 
  • , David S. MandellAffiliated withCenter for Mental Health Policy and Services Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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There is growing evidence that efficacious interventions for autism are rarely adopted or successfully implemented in public mental health and education systems. We propose applying diffusion of innovation theory to further our understanding of why this is the case. We pose a practical set of questions that administrators face as they decide about the use of interventions. Using literature from autism intervention and dissemination science, we describe reasons why efficacious interventions for autism are rarely adopted, implemented, and maintained in community settings, all revolving around the perceived fit between the intervention and the needs and capacities of the setting. Finally, we suggest strategies for intervention development that may increase the probability that these interventions will be used in real-world settings.


Autism spectrum disorders Intervention Community mental health Public schools Implementation science Diffusion of innovation