Autism Spectrum Disorders
School Psychology Program Studying Siblings and Parents
Autism, a complex neurobiological disorder, is characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social abilities, and repetitive behaviors. Specifically, autism is one of six disorders that are categorized under the title of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
Once viewed as rare, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are more prevalent today than before. The American Psychiatric Association estimates the national prevalence rate of ASD is approximately six persons per 1,000. It is estimated that as many as 132,000 Texans have some form of autism. Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes, and cancer combined.
Prevention, identification, and intervention for children with ASD are some of the many tasks of the school psychologist. Dr. Julie Ivey, a faculty member in the School Psychology Program within the School of Education, focuses her research on ASD with an emphasis on autism. Dr. Ivey teaches her school psychology graduate students to gather data from families of children with autism in order to have an impact on the local community.
In addition to the research that can increase community awareness and involvement, the School Psychology Program is involved in an intervention project at Baylor. Social Circles is a new project that current school psychology graduate students are facilitating with children who have been diagnosed with ASD. It is a collaborative effort with the Speech and Language Clinic at Baylor.
In this project, a school psychology graduate student works individually with a child with ASD on a weekly basis on tasks that improve communication, enhance emotional learning, and foster relationship building.
Graduate student Christie Powers reiterated the importance of the project. "Social Circles has allowed me to see first hand about this special population as well as apply knowledge that I have learned from my graduate training. This semester we have been working with Kevin on morning routines and teaching him the importance of hygiene through reading stories and engaging in interactive activities."
Jillian Weaver, another graduate student, explains that "working with Kevin has been a great opportunity for us to gain practical experience with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and we are grateful that his mother allows us to work with him each week."
Several research projects are under way regarding ASD in the School Psychology Program.
An initial project was to gain insight regarding the expectations of siblings of children with ASD. Responding to this study were middle- and high-school-aged siblings of children with ASD who live in the greater Austin, Fort Worth, Lewisville, Plano, and San Antonio areas.
The preliminary results revealed that siblings are concerned about the amount of independence their sibling with ASD will have as an adult. While the siblings believe their brother or sister will be successful in a school setting and will be accepted by others, they question whether their ASD siblings will live independently, hold jobs, get married, or have their own children. Dr. Ivey and her graduate assistant, Tara Hollingsworth, co-presented the results of this study at the National Association of School Psychologists' (NASP) annual meeting in New York in March 2007.
A second research project that started in May 2007 will examine the parental expectations and coping styles of individuals who have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder who are also siblings of a brother or sister with ASD. This project will investigate how these parents' (and siblings') coping styles and expectations differ from those parents who have not had previous family experience with the disorder.
Data for this project will be gathered through interviews and surveys with family members in Illinois, Texas, and California. Implications of this project include increasing teacher awareness of parental expectations and increased networking between parents and local community agencies.