Major

Nursing

Advisor

Hames, Carolyn

Advisor Department

Nursing, College of

Date

5-2011

Keywords

Autism, Nursing, Education, Behavioral Modification

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Abstract

Understanding Autism

Kaileigh Sweeney

Faculty Sponsor: Carolyn Hames

Autism spectrum disorders are greatly misunderstood in today’s society. In the United States, it is estimated that 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Despite this high prevalence, a great deal of the population is under the impression that a diagnosis of autism is straight forward and indicative of one set of devastating signs and symptoms. However, the severity of this disorder can range from mild to severe. According to the National Institute of Health, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

For my Honors Project, I decided to dedicate a great deal of my time to furthering my personal understanding of an autism spectrum disorder. Though I have learned about autism as a nursing student, I did not feel like I had learned enough. For firsthand experience, I volunteered to work with an organization called The Autism Project. “The mission of The Autism Project is to empower parents and professionals to educate and support individuals with Autism, Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, Asperger Syndrome and related disorders and their families.” I felt that volunteering for this organization would allow me to further my understanding and help me to educate others.

Each week, I spent time in a skills group where I worked one on one with lower functioning individuals within a group of about 10 students. We did art projects while working on “life skills,” such as manners and various social interactions. My experience working with The Autism Project has allowed me to see how intelligent and truly inspirational these children are. It has enhanced my understanding and allowed me to gain a new perspective about what it is like to live with an autism spectrum disorder.

My enrollment as a nursing student gives me the perfect opportunity to educate future health care professionals about autism spectrum disorders. Spreading awareness is a vital step in helping others to understand what it means to have this disorder. I have created a teaching tool, in the form of a power point, which is geared towards nursing students. This tool includes important information about autism spectrum disorders, including information on how one diagnosis can differ dramatically from another. I believe education is the key to helping society understand autism spectrum disorders more clearly. My honors project, Understanding Autism, has allowed me to expand my knowledge, educate others, and advocate for these individuals.