Life of the Brain and Mind

Receiving another grant to continue the same research I began last summer, I feel grateful to have another opportunity to expand my research through different concepts. This time, we have conducted information through two aspects of individuals with autism spectrum disorders:

Biology of the Brain

Elasticity in the neuro-typical brain for people have who have suffered injuries, strokes, and brain damage, can be affected through training, physical therapy, and emotional counseling. The neuro-typical brain can be redirected so that other parts can take over some of the damaged areas. The autistic brain is different from the neuro-typical brain in the fact from childhood to adult hood, synapsis and neuro-connections in the brain are not removed but remain rigid and permanent. While we cannot train the autistic brain to redirect different behaviors and characteristics, we can educate and train behaviors through direct modeling, mentoring, academic coaching.

Brain map that shows the differences

Top Right: Neuro-typical Brain

Bottom Right: Autistic Brain

“Grandin has lateral ventricles that are significantly larger on the left side of her brain than on the right.”

Online Source:–shed-light-unique-talents.html

Theory of Mind

Most students with high functioning autism have the potential to be academically successful by receiving comprehensive support. Working with their coaches, they develop new skills to comprehend readings that are intensely vague, and study habits to prepare for exams. Executive Functioning skills for assignments, time management, keeping appointments, making it class on time, being able to communicate with the professors. Nevertheless, comprehending theory of mind comes naturally for neuro-typical people, and is very complex for the people with ASD. Usually it is difficult for people with autism to process that others think differently than they do, especially when people have opinions they don’t concur with. Despite the challenges, there are possible strategies for people with ASD to practice skills to be more aware of others expressing their feelings. Not all, but some of these strategies in the diagram are easy for individuals with ASD to comprehend.


How Theory of Mind Applies to Autism

 Online Source:

Next month, I will be presenting my research at the 2018 College Inclusion Summit Conference in Burlington, Vermont. If I get footage while I am speaking, I will try to post some pictures. I am very excited for this opportunity and I cannot wait to share it.


Reflection of ASD Research (Summer)

According to our recent research, autism is the most prevalent of all neurodevelopmental disorders in existence today. It has been estimated that 1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls are diagnosed with autism. We believe that the number for girls is low, because girls present differently from boys when they are on the autism spectrum. The importance of this research is to examine the challenges for all people with autism especially those who have the cognitive abilities to attend post secondary education. My research takes into account different levels of autism, the prevalence, and intervention strategies that are in existence today.

In order to examine the current successes and failure rates of students with autism attending colleges and universities, we have found scientific studies from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institute of Health (NIH) and others to determine the common rates of success and failures. Our study looks at probable reasons for the failures and attempt to compare it with programs that offer comprehensive support for success.

Our summary has discovered that understanding the challenges of students with ASD attending colleges and universities is essential in developing programs to meet the challenges for these students. We have examined the characteristics of ASD and applied them to the types of strategies that are necessary in order to meet the needs according to the individual differences and challenges. Our work has shown that providing comprehensive support on all levels of academic, social, emotional, and employment readiness, students can beat the odds reported by other studies and be successful, independent, and self-sustaining.

We have identified reasons for failure and some strategies necessary for students with ASD to meet success in post secondary education and in life. For the upcoming academic year, we will continue to examine the strategies that are in place in successful programs to see what improvements and enhancements can be made to meet the needs of the ever growing population of students with ASD entering post secondary education.

Applying and receiving a grant for this research program has been one of the best gifts of my undergraduate experience. Reflecting what I have mentioned in one of my blogs, this research is the guiding-light to my future and fits very neatly with my background in autism awareness. Being able to study more about the symptoms of autism and learn the logistics of how difficult it is people with ASD to be like mainstream adults has triggered me to think about the quality education I received before coming to Pace University.

Working with the director of the comprehensive support program here at Pace University, I am able to learn new research methods that I will have to take in when being employed to do research at other companies. Through collaboration and discussion, we are thinking about what we our next steps are in terms of expanding the research we have started. Eventually, we will be applying to conferences around the world to present the work we have done so far. Being able to work with a faculty member who participates autism conferences all over the country, I hope to attend some autism awareness conferences with her and present the work we have done so far.

I am beyond thrilled to have received a grant for the academic year and I am excited to see where the research will lead me. With hope to ensuring comprehensive support for students who have special needs I am very sure that there are more possible strategies available for individuals with autism to become productive members of society through their learning differences. Quality education for individuals who have learning differences is still a current issue that can be resolved worldwide. Parents who have children with autism work very hard to ensure that their kids are have the resources to help them break through the walls to become successful.


Hope for safe and sustainable education

As we have explained the challenges students with ASD face nationally in our first blog, we are continuing to establish a comparative analysis on the difference that Pace University’s comprehensive college support program can make. Through collection of data from 2014 to the present, we are finding a vast difference between the national experiences of students with ASD in colleges generally and in Pace University’s comprehensive support program. We are finding statistical analysis for students with ASD concerning transition from the high school protected environment to the more opened concept of college. Our focus is on improvement of executive functioning skills, self-responsibility, and the capability of finding internships and employment. We hope to show that through our comprehensive support program, 90% of students who attend Pace University’s college support program consistently will become independent and self-sustaining adults. We used statistics on retention, academic success, and finding an internship. Yearly, we use a measurement through a five point Likert scale to evaluate a students’ progress in the areas of transition, executive functioning skills, social/emotional development, and employment readiness. The measurements are conducted at the end of each semester to chart a path of improvement.

I feel very proud to say that this research grant is the guiding light to my career path for autism awareness. Reading the current statistics of individuals with ASD going to college, and obtaining jobs, I am very stunned to see how low the percentage is nationwide, considering how much it affects people with high functioning autism who strive to become independent. Doing this research is clarifying how difficult it has been for individuals with autism to have a chance of succeeding in higher education before being employed full time. The research I have done this summer also demonstrates the type of change maker I want to be for my future. As we continue our research for the next academic year, we can hopefully elaborate on possible solutions to expand comprehensive support programs around the world for college students who have learning differences.

As I continue to advocate for Global Awareness about the autism spectrum, this research will be one of my best resources with the hope of constructing safe education environments for students who have learning challenges worldwide. With quality education becoming a sustainable development goal by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the UN, I am sure that there is an opportunity ahead for me to assist a UN body on this one specific factor that can work to their advantage.

Challenges of students with ASD in Higher Education and Beyond

Doing research on the Challenges and Success of students with Autism in Post-Secondary Education and beyond, I begin with a brief discussion about the characteristics of individuals on the Autism Spectrum, which cover the difficulties they have in social communication with others:

  • Low to High Cognitive Potential
  • Rigidity and Repetitive Movements
  • Intense interests on one or two areas
  • Tonal Prosody of Speech
  • Difficulty Interacting and Poor Eye Contact
  • General Inflexibility
  • Theory of Mind
  • Sensitivity to sound, crowds, touch or taste

Individuals with ASD will develop at their own pace by, breaking the barriers they face with their communication skills. Parents who have children with ASD are striving to help their kids become independent as they grow. Diving into the purpose of my research, I have discovered the challenges they face during their undergraduate career:

  • Transition from High School to college
  • Moving into a larger environment that is less structured
  • Classes not being scheduled daily
  • Follow a syllabus
  • Self-Advocacy
  • Executive Functioning Difficulties
  • Time Management
  • Organization
  • Communication with Professors
  • Living away from home
  • Self-Responsibility
  • Difficulty in accessing accommodations

Overall, the main objective is to apply possible strategies that will enable ASD students to reach their full potential as they go to college, get hired into the work place, and become productive members of society.

As far as expectations, I want to find out what supports are necessary in Post Secondary Education for students with ASD to overcome the difficulties they have nation wide. In addition, I aim to create Post-Secondary Education is a safe learning environment all over the world for students with learning differences. Moving forward into the process, I will be learning how different programs operate in helping students succeed in Post-Secondary Education.

The next step of the project is to do to a comparative analysis of the national averages of students with ASD in colleges and universities as opposed to the students with ASD or learning differences at Pace University who receive comprehensive support. My biggest hope is that the statistics I present will encourage educators and administrators to think about how they can assist students with learning differences to succeed during their college career and provide some necessary tools that will help them overcome their weaknesses.

Where I am in the process…

When I initially applied to this research program, I had no idea how much work goes into simply getting research APPROVED. The process of submitting work to the IRB can come with an excruciatingly long waiting period, when the researchers have no idea whether to progress on, assuming their work will be approved, or to halt all investigations until there is a 100% assurance that their work is valid and ethical. In the time that it took for the IRB to approve our surveys, I started to feel anxious, a little annoyed that it would take so long, and honestly…I became a little lax in my research. Professor Molina and I had completed our surveys months ago, and only just distributed them to our demographic for feedback. We yielded sixty-one responses. I am very proud of those responses, and can now begin a more in-depth and involved research process. Up until now, I had felt a little lazy in my research, as I did not have much to work with besides what research has already been done on the topic. Not surprisingly, much work has been done on the sibling relationship of people with autism. Especially over the last decade or so when autism diagnosis has been on the rise – it means that even more siblings are effected. What makes our research unique is that we are working with college-age participants, unlike children or babies with whom most autism-sibling research is done. People with autism in college obviously have what it takes to be an integral member of the social community and who are on the precipice of starting their own lives. Their perspective on their sibling support is much deeper and stronger than that of children, whose relationships with their siblings is just beginning to develop.

After Professor Molina submit our survey to the IRB, he requested that I partake in and complete a three hour online course that teaches about the ways to protect human research participants. I completed the course, and am now fully certified and educated in the proper treatment of humans used in a research process. It is not just a matter of asking questions, observing and getting answers. The questions you ask must be ethical. You must inform the participants on ever facet of the research, and they must know that they can withdraw their participation at any time. There are many rules that go into being qualified to utilize humans in your research, and I had no idea of these things prior to this course.

We will now proceed to extrapolate from our responses data to put into charts. We will compare and contrast the responses, and see how we can generalize the information. Now that we have concrete data, we can really dig into finding out more about how effective and beneficial it is for people with autism to have siblings to support them. I know I will personally make up for the time that was lost in our research due to waiting for approval.



Autism and Siblings

At this time in our research, we have completed our primary questionnaires for both college-aged people with Autism, as well as people who are siblings of people with Autism in college. We are currently waiting for the IRB to approve our questions, so we can then proceed with distributing these questionnaires and compiling data.

As we do not have any solid data yet, I can only speculate on what sort of things we will find. I hope that our participants are candid and honest, as that will help us best in our research. This may be a very sensitive subject matter, and talking about personal experiences may pose a challenge to many participants, I think it can be very cathartic to talk about difficult things. Sometimes people with Autism do not have any one to talk to about their personal experiences, and their day-to-day life is very regimented and there is no time to reflect on their emotions or daily experiences. Our research will give people will Autism a chance to talk about and explore a topic they may not have a chance to discuss otherwise. What do their siblings mean to them? Have they ever recognized their siblings as life-long teachers? How do they think they would have been different without their sibling(s)?

I also think this process will let the siblings of people with Autism discover how truly instrumental they are, and will continue to be in their Autistic sibling’s life. It will allow them the opportunity to reflect on all they do for their sibling. I hope that they feel like they can open up. If both parties are honest in their answers, we can gather a lot of important data from their answers. I look forward to the IRB’s approval of our questionnaire so we can begin!

Identifying the Effectiveness of Sibling Support for Individual’s Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The purpose of this research is to identify and characterize the benefits of sibling support for people on the Autism spectrum. Our demographic focus is on college students, between the ages of 17-25, as siblings often play a huge role in support at this transitional juncture in a person’s life. Siblings of all ages offer people with Autism uniquely different, but key levels of support. This support can motivate them, teach them and push them forward while they acclimate to the college setting. We will outline and narrowly define our definition of support in our research. Through surveying people in college with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as siblings of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, we intend to find specifically what sibling support does for people on the spectrum. Siblings are often the best role models, as their relationship is lifelong, and extends past parental relationships, and friendships, which can come and go. A sibling can teach you, simply by existing in your world. Siblings of people with Autism teach invaluable lessons, which often cannot be taught in school programs. They can teach a person with Autism things like how to forge meaningful relationships, how to handle stressful situations, and how to be a self-advocate, which are all examples of important lessons to know before college, or during college.

This research will be conducted through surveys, as well as a second component of personal, individual interviews. This research will shed light on how people with Autism interpret their sibling support, how siblings of people with Autism understand the support they offer, and maybe even how studying these important sibling relationships can offer insight on how best to cater teaching to people in the college setting with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We hope to give a voice to a demographic who are rarely discussed; the siblings of people with Autism, and to shed light on their meaningful relationships with their brother or sister with Autism.