Pragmatic Language and Self-Determination Intervention

The Provost’s Undergraduate Research Program has given me the opportunity to work closely with an influential mentor who has contributed a great deal of insight to the field of Autism.  Working with Dr. Dianne Zager, Michael C. Koffler Professor in Autism, on my research initiatives this summer has been an exceptional learning experience. In such a short amount of time, I have learned a lot about the necessary steps for conducting research including: drafting abstracts, inter-rate reliability tests, triangulation of data, evidence-based assessments and practices, intervention strategies, IRB regulations, etc.

Dr. Zager and I communicate on a weekly basis. Her continued guidance and support has allowed me to make great progress in my research initiatives. Since the start of the program Dr. Zager and I have met on several occasions to establish the focus of our study, set research goals, develop and evaluate strategies to help reach our goals, dissect extant research, establish hypotheses, etc. With Dr. Zager’s mentorship I was able to draft intervention plans for my research as well as complete a draft of my abstract and literature review.

The goals of our study are to (1) examine the effectiveness of an intervention strategy in improving pragmatic language skills and self-determination, and (2) to study the relationship between pragmatic language and self-determination. My study will design, implement and assess an intervention for fostering social language and self-determination competence in 10 young adults with diagnosed autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and relating learning difficulties. I will conduct a pre and post assessment of self-determination competence using Arc’s Self-Determination Scale by Michael Wehmeyer and pragmatic language competence using the Test of Pragmatic Language (TOPL-2) by Diana Phelps-Terasaki and Trisha Phelps-Gunn. I was very fortunate to receive a free copy of the TOPL-2 from the publisher. She expressed interest in our results and is available for discussion.

The students I will be working with attend New Frontiers in Learning (NFiL), an organization that serves young adults with ASD and related learning difficulties. I met with the staff at NFiL, Program Director Samantha Feinman, Program Coordinator Raul Jimenez and Academic Coordinator Marty McGreevy on several occasions in order to discuss assessment and intervention plans.

I am very eager to continue my research efforts and believe that my experiences this summer will provide me with the foundation I will need to participate in clinical research in my professional field. As a student majoring in Speech and Language Pathology I cannot be more intrigued with the focus of my research and am lucky to be given the opportunity to study the effectiveness of intervention strategies in improving pragmatic language skills and self-determination.

In conclusion, my experiences this summer are not limited to my research. Dr. Zager nominated me for a student member position on the board of directors of Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (DADD). I am honored to be nominated for such a rewarding position where I will be given the opportunity to move closer towards the professional field I am studying by meeting the leaders of the field of self-determination. I am very fortunate to be paired with such an involved mentor and I am looking forward to the work we will complete as we move forward.