Top Scholars Helping Improve Lives for People with Autism

With autism spectrum disorders continuing to rise, Ontario is funding new research into the needs of women seeking help with the disorder and the differences in the way those with autism process information.

Through the 2017 Autism Scholars Awards, administered by the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), two York University scholars — PhD student Rebecca Shine and Master's student Karen Black — will receive awards of $20,000 and $18,000 respectively. The awards were established in 2004 by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development to support research into autism, one of the most common developmental disabilities in Canada.

photo of Rebecca Shine

Rebecca Shine

"Autism is now the fastest growing and most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder in Canada and the prevalence of ASD has doubled over the last decade. One in 68 children are currently diagnosed with ASD, while mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression are common in individuals with ASD and their families," says David Lindsay, COU’s President and CEO. "The work of these Ontario researchers will lead to a better understanding of the way parents and children with ASD influence each other, improve treatment planning for children with ASD and provide better supports for families and communities across the province."

"The future of Ontario is dynamic and changing, and the rapid pace continues to present new challenges. As autism spectrum disorders (ASD) continue to rise, Ontario’s universities are committed to educating and training the highly skilled researchers who are essential in finding new ways to treat the disorder and provide support to our communities in building a better future for Ontario."

Shine’s research focuses on parent and child outcomes in families of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Her research will examine the factors that have an impact on the well-being of children with ASD and their parents, to gain a better understanding of how they influence each other.

photo of Karen Black

Karen Black

ASD affects children and their families in many different ways. These differences can result from factors within a child, their parents and families, or the treatments and supports they receive. As she pursues a doctoral degree in Clinical Developmental Psychology at York University, Shine hopes this research will lead to a better understanding of the way parents and children with ASD influence each other, improve treatment planning for children with ASD and provide better supports for families.

Black’s primary research involves the study of mindfulness training for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD can experience difficulties interpreting how bodily sensations connect to one’s emotions. Mindfulness-based therapy can help children to “tune in” to bodily sensations through techniques such as noticing, describing and acceptance.

Since little is known about how mindfulness-based therapy contributes to change for youth with ASD, Karen hopes to study physiological changes during mindfulness practice to improve understanding of the impact mindfulness activities can have on children with ASD. Black is completing her first year as a master’s student at York University, studying Clinical Developmental Psychology with a specialization in neuropsychology.

Lindsay said, "Autism has a profound effect on the lives of children and their families. This university-led research is essential in the evolution of health care in Ontario and the province’s capacity to tailor treatments and approaches to autism depending on the individual needs of children and their families."

Find out more about the Autism Scholars Awards helping to increase Ontario's capacity to diagnose, assess and treat autism.

Provided by Council of Ontario Universities.