Reaching Children with Autism

CPS - Lisa WrightFaculty Member Dr. Lisa Wright Reaches Children With Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects an estimated one in 88 children in America. Sadly, there exist few scientifically proven treatments for the condition, which interferes with children’s capacity to respond to the world around them.

That’s a problem that Dr. Lisa Wright, a faculty member in Purdue Global’s Department of Educational Studies, hopes to help solve.

In cooperation with Rebecca McCathren from the University of Missouri, Lisa conducted research on the use of what educators call “social stories,” individualized narratives that help youngsters on the autistic spectrum think more flexibly and better understand social situations.

The research was published in the June 2012 edition of the journal Child Development Research.

“It supports the use of social stories as an intervention,” said Dr. Wright, a former physical therapist who received her doctorate in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Missouri. “Each of the children in our study showed modest improvements.”

First developed by autism expert Carol Gray, social stories can help children learn the kinds of social skills that typically developing children acquire much more easily.

For example, a 4-year-old might learn what it means to share by reading a social story about two little boys who take turns playing with a truck. Similarly, a child who is upset by unexpected events such as a fire drill, the arrival of a new teacher or a dentist appointment might read a social story that acquaints him or her with what will happen in those situations.

“What’s great about social stories is that they’re really easy to create, and they don’t feel like an intervention,” said Dr. Wright. “You feel as though you’re just reading a book with your child.”

Dr. Wright’s research on social stories took place in an early childhood special education classroom and a private preschool classroom over the course of a school year. The classroom teachers were trained on how to use the social story intervention, and social stories were used in the classrooms as well as at home.

Dr. Wright hopes to share her research with her students at Purdue Global, some of whom work or are hoping to work with children on the autistic spectrum.

“So many of my students come with professional experience that you don’t see in students at brick-and-mortar institutions,” she said. “They have wonderful experience working with children and this is so valuable for the entire class.”

Kaplan University’s online platform allows her to inject depth and spontaneity into her teaching, she explained.   

In one instance, when a student asked a question about how infant hearing is assessed, she was able to instantly access a video of the procedure to show them. 

Most important, however, “Purdue Global students and faculty are a great group of people,” Lisa said.  “I love teaching here.” 

To read the full text of Lisa’s research, Utilizing Social Stories to Increase Prosocial Behavior and Reduce Problem Behavior in Young, click here.