Autism research has long been a topic of interest for faculty and students at Florida State’s College of Education. With the introduction of our Autism Spectrum Disorder graduate program, we know that there is even more interest in what our faculty are researching and how autism specialists can better serve their charges. Today, we are spotlighting the current autism research of Dr. Jenny Root, assistant professor of Special Education.
Students with autism face a number of challenges in the classroom, but Root currently focuses her research on how autism specialists and teachers can implement technology to improve these students’ mathematics and social skills. This particular research looks at how augmented reality can make a difference in improving instruction for middle and high school students with autism.
Why focus on mathematics and social skills? “Both are essential to post-school success ,” says Root. Researchers have spent a lot of time looking at effective ways that autism specialists and Root’s latest research specifically looks at how augmented reality can help students at the middle and high school levels learn both of these skills.
Furthermore, experts in autism research have discovered that mathematics and social skills prepare people with autism for independence after finishing school. Presently, people with autism rank last among adults with disabilities in regards to attendance rates of either 2- or 4-year colleges (Grigal, Hart, & Migliore, 2011; Taylor & Seltzer, 2011). Even more troubling, people with autism have the lowest employment rates (4-12%). Studies have shown that social skills and success at school predict whether or not a student attends college, becomes employed and lives independently (Nasamran, Witmer, & Los, 2017).
It’s clear that social skills are important to helping people with autism achieve independence, but why also focus on mathematics? “It’s not enough to know how to solve math problems,” says Root, “but rather, a person must know when and why.” In other words, math in a classroom does not always reflect the math we use in the real world. By focusing on both math and social skills, Root believes that teachers can better prepare people with autism for independence and success in school.
School-based and real-world mathematical problem solving requires generalization—applying what is learned in one context to an untaught context—but students with autism have difficulty with this concept. For example, generalizing math skills to the real world involves determining if you have enough money to cover a purchase, asking for assistance or clarification, interacting with employees to complete transactions, and checking a receipt to ensure its accuracy.
Another key part of Root’s autism research is the use of technology. “As most people know, people with autism often struggle with social interaction and cues, so they need explicit instruction in these areas,” says Root. “We are researching whether technology in the form of videos in an augmented reality platform can be effective in teaching students the social skills they need to complete mathematical tasks in their community.” Augmented reality, or AR, is a promising new technology that autism specialists could use to help students. AR’s visual nature and prompts may help students learn math and social skills within a safe classroom setting before applying them in the real world.
Interested in contributing to the research efforts on autism at Florida State’s College of Education? Learn more about our Autism Spectrum Disorder program and consider applying before its July 1 deadline.