Intervening in Autism
Ten years ago, approximately 1 in 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism. Today, that number has risen to more than 1 in 165. Autism has become one of the prominent medical issues of our time and Tyndale students and professors are studying ways to treat it.
This August and September, Dr. Amanda Azarbehi and the Tyndale University College Psychology Department hosted two, weeklong summer camps for children in the community with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Psychology professor Dr. Azarbehi, who specializes in autism, developmental delays, and child psychology, has spent over ten years working in research and therapy related to autism. She began the T.R.AC.E. (Tyndale Research in Autism and Community Education) summer camp in 2010. T.R.A.C.E. is a not-for-profit organization which was formed to conduct research, offer autism intervention services, and offer seminars and training programs to parents and professionals.
This year the T.R.A.C.E. camp was directed by recent Tyndale psychology graduate, Whitney Reeve. Whitney wrote her thesis on data gathered from last year’s T.R.A.C.E. camp. She, along with student interns from the psychology program, taught social skills to children with autism through applied behavior analysis (ABA). The camps also pilot tested an integration program with 25% typical peers in week one and 45% typical peers in week two. “We wanted them to get used to children with special needs,” says Whitney, “and to integrate what the children with autism were learning so that they could use what they’ve learned with their typical peers. It is natural reinforcement for their typical peers to teach appropriate behaviors.”
The camps had a one-to-one staff to student ratio which ensured that each student received the attention needed for ABA. A fun camp atmosphere was maintained while completing the social skills curriculum. The children went to the Ontario Science Centre, “Zoo to You” brought animals to show the children, and there was plenty of “free play” to allow the children to decompress and apply the social skills they were learning. “Every second is a teachable moment and we use them in fun and exciting ways,” said Whitney. Dr. Azarbehi, T.R.A.C.E., and Tyndale students and alumni, will continue to serve the community through autism research, treatment, seminars, and training to address this key medical issue.