Campus Affiliation: College of Staten Island
Training Area: Developmental Psychology
Building on my early experiences working with autistic people as a caregiver and teacher’s assistant, I use a multi-method approach to investigate strengths and challenges associated with autism across the lifespan. I conducted the first study to examine relations between joint attention in early childhood and adaptive outcomes in adulthood in autism as well as a number of studies examining underlying mechanisms that contribute to associations between joint attention and language development. In collaboration with a colleague on the autism spectrum, I developed an online survey to examine conceptions of autism and computer-mediated communication among autistic people, their family members, and people with no familial relation to autism. One of our key findings was that people on the spectrum recognize unique benefits of autism yet desire supports to help them adapt to and transform society. Therefore, we developed a participatory mentorship program for autistic college students at the College of Staten Island (CSI), Building Bridges Project REACH. Autistic college students and college graduates in our participatory research group help develop programming to support other autistic students, evaluations of programming, and research questions, with a specific focus on factors that promote positive identity development. College students in Project REACH also help us develop a video game, Connecting through Kinect, to help autistic people develop collaboration and emotion recognition skills. To alleviate misconceptions about autism, I collaboratively developed an online training about autism for college communities. Participation in this training has been associated with improved attitudes toward autism internationally. We are currently developing and evaluating participatory adaptations of this training for educators and high school and college students. I am also the director of CSI’s Advanced Certificate Program in Autism Spectrum Disorders and a faculty representative for Project REACH and CUNY Unlimited.