EKU Uses WHAS Crusade Grant to Assist Children with Autism, Their Families

A series of grants from the WHAS Crusade for Children has enabled Eastern Kentucky University to enhance a program designed to assist children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and their families.

The University recently received $4,068.75 from the Crusade, the third consecutive year the Louisville station has assisted the ASD program, which was begun many years prior to the grants.

One evening a week throughout much of each spring semester, faculty and students from the EKU departments of Psychology and Occupational Therapy lead social skills groups for 10-15 children with ASD in the University’s Psychology Clinic while simultaneously the children’s parents (and, in some cases, siblings) are meeting with Psychology faculty and graduate students. In addition, each fall faculty and student leaders work with school groups in the community.

Because the most common developmental difference for people with autism lies within the area of social function, children with ASD “often exhibit difficulties in successfully interacting with others, leading to challenges in the home, school and community,” said Dr. Myra Beth Bundy, professor of psychology and co-faculty supervisor of the project along with Dr. Peggy Wittman, professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy.

Using a Lifestyle Performance Model as the framework for group development, faculty and students organize activities for the children around four core themes: “Taking Care of Myself,” “Doing Something for Others,” “Things I Like to Do,” and “Playing with Others.” In addition, because children with autism often have “intense special interests, we try to incorporate their favorite things,” Bundy noted.

“We want to help the children function in life,” she said, “and provide them with a social opportunity.

Most of the children served by the EKU program are of elementary school age, and some of the families drive as much as two hours to visit the Richmond campus. Services are provided at a modest cost on an ability-to-pay basis.

In addition to the obvious benefits for the children and families, 10-15 EKU graduate and undergraduate students in psychology and occupational therapy gain supervised field work and observation opportunities.

“Students, especially at the graduate level, are the backbone of this program,” Bundy said. “They are having an impact on children in multiple ways. I hope that they’ll be interested in working with this population in the future and that they’ll have some ideas for intervention.”

EKU offers an interdisciplinary autism certificate program for graduate students. The program is a joint effort of the psychology, occupational therapy, special education and communication disorders programs.

Wittman said the occupational therapy students, in particular, provide “a specialized knowledge in task analysis that allows leaders to select fun activities that also meet individual and group therapeutic goals. The (OT) students in turn have gained invaluable knowledge about how families and children on the autism spectrum cope with everyday life, respond to others, and engage in occupations including play.”

As for the parents, the “support” element is vital, Bundy said. “Parents report that it’s helpful for them to meet others with similar experiences.”

To learn more about services EKU provides for children with autism and their families, contact Bundy at myrabeth.bundy@eku.edu or at 859-622-1103.

Published on October 05, 2011