by Jeff Samoray, Published November 30, 2011
For Speech and Language Pathology major Carmen Grange, Eastern's McNair Scholars Program provides an opportunity to perform scholarly research on a topic that's close to home.
Grange, a junior, recently completed a paper focusing on the language development issues in children with autism spectrum disorders. She'll present her paper at Eastern's 32nd annual Undergraduate Symposium on March 30, 2012.
"My half brother and half sister are on the autism spectrum," Grange says. "Both were diagnosed at age 3. The experience was difficult for me-I knew there was nothing I could do to help."
Grange was 12 when her half-siblings were diagnosed. Neither child developed the communications skills typically seen in pre-school children.
"My little sister exhibits behaviors similar to obsessive compulsive disorder, like repeatedly lining objects up," Grange says. "That behavior is actually a symptom of autism. My brother's case is more severe. Certain sounds, like a school bell, are very intense for him. He's also very anti-social and keeps to himself."
When choosing colleges, Grange selected Eastern for its strong education programs. The McNair Scholar program also attracted her interest. The program provides research training and faculty mentoring to students in any discipline who are preparing for a graduate degree. Grange's paper about autism is her first program project.
"Professor Sylvia Jones is my faculty mentor," Grange says. "She specializes in early adolescent development. She's provided books from her own library and is always available for feedback on my research.
"I never thought my college experience would be so rewarding. After getting my master's degree, I'd like to work as a speech therapist in a school or a hospital. Eventually, I'd like to open my own speech therapy practice."
No one knows exactly what causes autism or how it can be prevented. But Grange wants to find better ways of helping children with an autism diagnosis learn to communicate.
"Autism isn't the result of bad parenting, as many believe," she says. "It's a real problem in our society that's becoming more and more prevalent. I want to help find better interventions to help children on the autism spectrum while they're in school."
Visit the McNair Scholars website for information about this community of research-oriented students and how you can become involved.