Two researchers are being recognized for their work which aims to improve the lives of children with autism by helping them interact socially.
Amanda Binns, a PhD candidate, and Meara Stow, a Master’s student, both at Western University, are the 2019 recipients of the Autism Scholars Awards, administered by the Council of Ontario Universities.
Binns, this year’s recipient of the $20,000 Doctoral Award, is investigating how different forms of play can be managed and structured to help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) interact with their parents.
Stow, recipient of the $18,000 Masters Award, is researching cognitive factors in children with ASD that are associated with the difficulties they face when processing social and emotional signals.
The Autism Scholars Awards support pioneering research into autism, which has become the fastest-growing neurological disorder in Canada.
The Autism Scholars Awards Program was established with the support of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to ensure that Ontario continues to promote leading-edge scholarship into the condition, 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.
Amanda Binns’ research project will investigate how playtime can be managed and structured to help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) interact with their parents.
Autistic children often have difficulty communicating and engaging socially, and individual differences between children in this group make it hard to develop “one size fits all” strategies to help. Amanda’s research therefore aims to factor in how personal characteristics of children with ASD might affect which interaction styles and environments are suited to helping them engage.
The project’s first phase will involve videotaping autistic preschoolers interacting with their parents during two types of play – physical play and ‘symbolic’ play (for example, with toy cars or pretend food), and observing how the interactions differ. The second phase will explore how individual characteristics such as age, language level, and play level might influence how to tailor the environment and types of interaction to best support the children.
Results of the research are aimed at informing clinical assessment practices for evaluating autistic children’s engagement and language, as well as guiding clinicians’ suggestions of supports to help them engage with caregivers during play.
Amanda is a Speech-Language Pathologist with over 10 years of experience working as a clinician, and a PhD Candidate at Western University.
Meara Stow is researching the cognitive factors in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that contribute to their difficulties in processing social and emotional signals.
Children with ASD often struggle to identify facial expressions, and can have difficulty maintaining eye-contact with others. Meara is examining how and why biases in the way social behavior is interpreted make it hard for autistic children to navigate through normal social interactions.
Her project aims to address the lack of research in this area, with a view to creating methods to accommodate and improve social communication abilities in children with ASD.
Meara received a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Manitoba, and is currently a Master’s student at Western University.