Childhood Studies undergraduate Ruth Spillman worked on the research project “Supporting Reading in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders” as part of the first Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship Scheme in 2010. Her supervisor for the project was Dr Paula Clarke.
Here, she talks about her experiences of the project and the scheme:
I have been developing an interest in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) for many years, beginning at the age of ten when I stayed for two months with a family who had a three year old child with low-functioning ASD, and another with Down syndrome; I enjoyed interacting with both the children.
When a vacancy arose for a care-worker with a thirteen-year-old boy with low-functioning ASD, I was keen to apply and broaden my experiences with ASD. I worked with the boy ever week for around 2.5 hours, and more in school holidays, for almost two years before leaving for university, and learned a lot from the experience. I was delighted when he showed breakthroughs in development: one example being when he first drew a picture with me, having previously just drawn lines.
I had observed whilst reading in my care-worker role, that, although he seemed to read the words aloud quite well, he subsequently had difficulty answering questions about the text. I was interested to see that perhaps it was my method of asking Adam, rather than his actual understanding that could be the issue. It would be amazing if this project led to a system that could better realise the potential of similar children.
The research project maps extremely well against my current course and my career plans, and touches on many key areas of my course. For example, there is a clear focus on education and learning processes and the use of technology in the central question as to whether the children respond better to verbal questioning or an IT programme having read a particular passage. Moreover, the project has given me a greater understanding of the education system and how teachers can assist children with special needs. It has also helped me in terms of learning how to conduct a good literature search and review.
Working with professionals
The scholarship has allowed me to gain more understanding in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Reading Comprehension, and assessment. It has allowed me to develop skills in analysing and reviewing large amounts of literature, writing a literature review, working with professionals and combining literature with practical elements. I have learned about different careers I can go into, and it has given me an insight into research. It has also built up my confidence with regards to presenting what I have done.
Thanks to the scholarship I can research something that I am passionate about. It has allowed me to continue the research over the next year, so that I am part of the whole process. It has also allowed me to meet with people that are experts in the field and that have been able to give me some great advice.
Without the scholarship, I would have not been able to gain the research experience that I now have in the area that really interests me.