My program of research focuses on identifying processes and practices that can be used to support youth with autism and their families in living more freely in their communities of choice. I take a strength-based approach to understanding autism and explore how systems can be supported and structured to facilitate positive development. Most autism programming has emerged from a medical model of disability that understands autism as an individual’s pathological deficit that should be treated, and if possible, cured by experts and professionals. In contrast, I understand autism as a common set of characteristics that primarily affect how children learn and think. These differences cause a variety of cognitive and behavioral patterns, and some of these patterns can limit an individual’s ability to meet their goals. Our society is often rigid, and therefore individuals (and families) with autism are sanctioned, stigmatized, and isolated for not fitting in and this exacerbates impairments associated with autism. Through my research, I seek to apply this understanding of autism to develop programs that support adolescents and families in gaining resilience in the face of marginalization.
To advance this objective my research centers along three integrated paths: (1) gaining a better understanding of the lived experiences of youth with autism, their families, and support professionals; (2) developing and evaluating programs that are grounded in this understanding; and (3) exploring the effectiveness of online programming. My desire to conduct applied research stems from my years of working as a practitioner with individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities as well as my interdisciplinary training in human development and family studies.