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Two Ontario university graduate students are being recognized by the Council of Ontario Universities for their pioneering autism research that supports new discoveries, treatments and contributions that will positively impact children with autism and their families. Each year, the Autism Scholars Award is presented to a doctoral and master’s-level researcher at an Ontario university.
This year’s recipient of the doctoral-level Autism Scholars Award and a $20,000 prize is Carly Albaum from York University. Albaum’s research examines how process factors such as a client’s motivation and involvement in psychotherapy sessions determines why and how some youth benefit from therapy and others do not. The outcome of Albaum’s research will help inform mental health care providers about the kinds of therapeutic processes to consider when providing care to youth with autism which addresses a critical gap in existing mental health research.
This year’s recipient of the master’s-level Autism Scholars Award and a $18,000 prize is Olivia Dobson from the University of Guelph. Dobson’s research is the first to investigate how needle pain management tools and fear-reducing interventions can be tailored to children with autism and their families. Dobson’s research will help inform clinical guidelines and educate healthcare professionals and families about how best to support children with autism who undergo needle procedures.
The Autism Scholars Awards Program was established with the support of the Ministry of Colleges and Universities to ensure Ontario continues to promote leading-edge scholarship into autism, which affects one in 66 Canadian children, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
For more information on how the awards are administered, click here.
To learn about last year’s winners, click here.
Carly Albaum’s research focuses on investigating mental health outcomes for children with autism following participation in psychotherapy. Her research aims to better understand how mental health interventions can be effective for all children with autism by looking at who benefits most and why by examining process factors such as a client’s motivation to take part in treatment, their involvement in therapy sessions or the relationship between client and therapist.
Her research involves a three-stage approach: reviewing existing literature on process factors in mental health treatments for youth with autism, understanding the relationship between child involvement and treatment outcomes following participation in cognitive behavioural therapy and exploring the role of parents in supporting youth involvement in therapy sessions.
Together, each stage of research will help identify gaps in existing literature and inform mental health care providers working with youth with autism about the kinds of therapeutic processes to consider to ensure all youth with autism benefit from taking part in therapy.
Albaum is a doctoral candidate in the Clinical-Developmental Psychology program at York University. She received her Bachelor of Arts with Specialized Honours and Master of Arts degrees from the same institution. Her undergraduate thesis focused on expressed emotion in parents of children with autism, and her master’s thesis examined therapeutic alliance in cognitive behaviour therapy for children with autism. Albaum was the recipient of the Frederick Banting & Charles Best Canada Graduates Scholarships Doctoral Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Albaum has also completed training through clinical placements at the Toronto District School Board, and the Shaw Clinic, Child & Family Services at Mackenzie Health Hospital. She continues to be actively involved in providing mental health services for youth with autism.
Olivia Dobson’s research aims to develop strategies to help children with autism undergo less painful and stressful needle procedures that supports them before, during and after the appointment. Dobson’s research will be the first to investigate how needle pain management tools and fear-reducing interventions tailored to the individual needs of a child and their family will create a more comfortable experience.
Dobson is working directly with parents of children with autism to determine helpful additions and modifications to existing resources and strategies such as investigating how to prepare children for needles through home-based education strategies.
These learnings will help inform clinical guidelines and educate health care professionals and families about how to best support children with autism who undergo needle procedures. By understanding these important factors, caregivers can help reduce immediate and long-term risks, such as distress, chronic fear, and inadequate healthcare treatment among children with autism, especially in light of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Dobson completed her undergraduate degree in psychology at Acadia University. She is currently a clinical child and adolescent psychology master’s student with the Pediatric Pain, Health and Communication Lab at the University of Guelph and a trainee in the pain in child health training program.
Dobson has worked with individuals with autism for over six years in many volunteer, research and professional roles. In 2018, she founded the only inclusive dance program in the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia, which includes programming for children with autism. She hopes to continue to advocate and create services that meet the needs of the autism community.