Dr. Steffanie Schilder, assistant professor of psychology at Upper Iowa University, and alumni Olivia Schnur (center) and Heather Lewis, present their autism research at the National APA Convention held in August in Washington, D.C.
FAYETTE, Iowa (August 26, 2014) – Looking at autism spectrum disorders from a multicultural perspective can be challenging, but it is one that is gaining ground in psychology research everywhere. Dr. Steffanie Schilder, assistant professor of psychology at Upper Iowa University, along with two alumni are fortunate to be on the cusp of this forward way of thinking. "There's this big push for psychologists to look beyond the United States with their research, and to find out how certain disorders affect or are affected by culture," she said.
In August, Schilder, and alumni Olivia Schnur '13 and Heather Lewis '14, presented "Autism from a Multicultural Perspective: Diagnosis, Treatment and Family Implications," at the National American Psychology Association 122nd Annual Convention in Washington, D.C.
The poster presentation is designed to let others know in the field what kind of research is being conducted. This was a tremendous opportunity for Schnur, who is currently pursuing a master's in counseling at the University of Northern Iowa, and Lewis, a master's in counseling student at the University of Iowa, to present research they and two other Upper Iowa University students had conducted during their undergraduate years. "For someone with just a bachelor's degree to present at this convention is unheard of," added Schilder. "So, this was certainly a very cool opportunity for these two alumni."
With the end goal of becoming published in the near future, Schilder's personal attachment to this project has almost come full circle. "I started my career working with children with autism," she said. "One of the children I worked with was Malaysian, and after being in the United States seeking treatment, he and his family returned home." It was through this family that Schilder was able to make contact with other Malaysian families affected by autism. With the aid of Upper Iowa's Faculty Internationalization Grant, she traveled to the country in 2012 where she interviewed families and did an in-depth study of how the disorder is recognized and treated.
For one, in the United States a psychologist traditionally makes the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. In Malaysia, a speech pathologist might make the diagnosis. There are also a limited number of services available, and diagnosis can be difficult. "In the United States, one of the first things parents, doctors or psychologist look at is whether or not the child is making eye contact," Schilder said. "In some cultures, eye contact is not an acceptable form of communication. Their diagnosis may be based on a child's lack of social skills."
Schilder said she was excited to have four students that took an interest in this research project. UIU students working on the project in addition to Lewis and Schnur included Ain Surya Mior Azri and Adriana Chase. "I like to involve students in whatever research I'm interested in," said Schilder. "Many of them are going on to graduate school, so they become genuinely interested in learning the research process."
For this particular project, the four students conducted a "lit review," which is a review of literature on the topic of autism from a multicultural perspective. Schilder then conducted the actual research and spent hours transcribing audio from her interviews. Lewis conducted comparable research with families in the United States to perform a side-by-side comparative analysis. Eventually, Schilder hopes, that the culmination of all their hard work will result in publication.
"It was very exciting for us to get such great feedback from the APA convention," she added. "We had a lot of people speaking to us about our research and our findings. This was all very encouraging."
About Upper Iowa University Founded in 1857, Upper Iowa University is a private, not-for-profit university providing undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 6,200 students – nationally and internationally – at its Fayette campus and learning centers worldwide. Upper Iowa University is a recognized innovator in offering accredited, quality programs through flexible, multiple delivery systems, including online and self-paced degree program. With a focus on developing leaders and lifelong learners, UIU provides dual enrollment programs for high school students as well as continuing education and professional development opportunities for learners of any age. For more information, visit www.uiu.edu.
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