Autism Awareness Month at FSU's College of Education

Josh Duke

One in 68 children born in the United States are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The diagnosis rate has increased over the years, prompting researchers to investigate ASD. FSU's College of Education faculty have joined the research efforts and have added valuable insight into the debate over the years. As part of Autism Awareness month, we're looking at some of this ongoing autism research happening in the College of Education.

Autism and STEM

Dr. Bradley Cox is currently researching autism-related characteristics in college STEM students. Roughly 16,000 students with ASD pursue a college degree every year, and about one in three of those students will go into a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) program. Cox's research focuses on the college experience of ASD students, exploring why so many of them struggle to find employment or decide not to continue with postsecondary education. The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, examines how students with autism may actually excel in STEM fields due to their observational, identification, and logic skills. Ultimately, Cox wants to look at how students with autism can flourish with the appropriate help and classroom support.

Virtual Support

Dr. Fengfeng Ke's research focuses on one of the primary challenges children with autism face: communication. Her innovative research explores how children with Asperger's Syndrome can benefit from virtual-reality-based socializing. Ke and her team developed a special 3D virtual environment that children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders can explore and shape. As part of this interaction, they will talk to a mix of student- and instructor-controlled characters and non-playable characters. Interacting with others in this virtual world offers students a chance to explore and develop their social skills in a less stressful environment.

Communication in Children

Dr. Kelly Whalon, and Dr. Lindsay Dennis received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs. The grant supports five scholars who are getting their doctoral degrees in Special Education. The project, Communication for Young Children to Enhance Learning (CYCEL), looks at how the three developmental domains of language, literacy and behavior relate to one another. The researchers will also focus their study on young children at risk for developmental delays, including ASD.

While there is no cure for autism, early diagnosis and intervention can help children and improve their outcomes. Research into autism can help families with this early intervention, while other research can help students living with autism navigate everyday life. If you are interested in working with students with autism, consider enrolling in our accelerated BS/MS program in Special Education.