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Graduate School

Olivia Rhoades: Masters of Speech-Language Pathology

When Speech-language pathology Masters student Olivia Rhoades had the opportunity to combine her passions and concern into a research opportunity, she jumped at the chance.    Olivia Rhoades

As an undergraduate, Rhoades was fortunate enough to present a poster in the Undergraduate Symposium, the single even marking her realize that “a life of research is what I crave.”     So, when the chance to combine her passion for educational theatre and a deep concern over the rise in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), she jumped at the opportunity to turn her experience developing a summer drama camp for children with developmental disorders into a research opportunity and share her findings at the Graduate Research Conference. Through the perspectives of eight parents and four instructors, data was collected through a series of questionnaires and interviews to see if intensive exposure to drama and theatre can be used as a viable option to promote the development of social skills among children with ASD.  What resulted was the apparent promotion in caregiver/peer interactions, an increased ease in adjusting routines, eye contact, social perception and an awareness of social cues.  A stronger gain in social skills seemed to occur in children with greater social communication needs when extensively exposed to the arts, hopefully providing new areas of study and venues for children with ASD, while advocating for their inclusion in theatre, arts, and other creative programs.

Rhoades attributes the success of her research at the GRC greatly in part due to the guidance she received from her faculty advisor:

“The most important aspect of making the GRC experience a success for me was my partnership with Dr. Ana Claudia Harten.  I would encourage anyone considering research to find a knowledgeable and passionate faculty mentor to guide them through the process.  Having an experienced professor provided me with confidence and encouragement at all stages of the research process, from the review of the literature to dissemination. “ 

In the Future Rhoades plans to further her research on social communication in autism, hopefully through a PhD program, and perhaps pursuing a private practice in speech-language pathology in order to “bring my research to life.”  With further and more extensive studies, she believes her applications of drama can have a functional impact on the social skills of children on the autism spectrum and to help undo the common perception that having ASD means a disinterest in communication.  




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