TWU professor uses grant to help create autism-friendly community events

April 14, 2020 - DENTON - People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience many challenges when it comes to participating in social activities in their communities, and as a result, are frequently underemployed, bullied or lonely. Thanks to a $267,477 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas Woman’s Occupational Therapy faculty member Tina Fletcher EdD, MFA, OTR, is addressing this problem. She will help create autism-friendly community venues and events critical to engaging this vulnerable population.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 54 children are identified as having ASD, and autism is the fastest-growing special education category. The Texas Council on Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders has recommended that Texas improve opportunities and employment rates for people with ASD.

That’s where Fletcher’s research project—Planning for Autism in Venues and Events (PAVE)—which launches in June 2020, comes in.

“PAVE will be a collaboration between young adults and teenagers with ASD, occupational therapy researchers and educators to evaluate the autism-friendliness of community venues and events,” said Fletcher. “The goal is to develop a systematic way for venues to engage in self-study to make them more autism-friendly, while also providing information to people with autism about how to prepare for circumstances when changes are not possible. As a result of this research, we hope to create guidelines for other facilities to use to create autism-friendly events.”

Fletcher, the primary investigator, will partner on the project with educators from My Possibilities in Plano, a college-like center of continued learning for individuals with autism, developmental disabilities and other conditions.

TWU OT students also will be involved by participating in the community visits that the teens with ASD make, helping them convey their impressions of the venues’ autism friendliness, and helping them understand their own sensory processing, communication and social behaviors. In addition, they will assist in designing programs for successful community outings for those with ASD.

For Fletcher, this grant not only furthers TWU’s mission of helping others, but it allows those with ASD to help their own community as well.

“This research will reinforce the mission and vision of the School of Occupational Therapy, which has a long history of promoting social justice, including helping individuals with special challenges engage more fully in the occupations that give their life purpose and meaning,” said Fletcher. “It also will support new directives from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, which states there should be ‘Nothing about us without us,’ meaning all autism research should actively involve people with autism in planning and implementing research studies.”

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Ray Willhoft
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Page last updated 4:53 PM, April 14, 2020