York University grad students sweep Autism Scholars Awards

York University scholars Rebecca Shine and Karen Black have been recognized with the 2017-18 Autism Scholar Awards for leading the way in research to improve Ontario’s capacity to diagnose, assess and treat autism.

The 2017 Autism Scholars Awards, administered by the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), include one award at the doctoral level and one at the master’s level.

Rebecca Shine

Shine will receive $20,000 to continue her doctoral research on parent and child outcomes in families of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Her research will examine the factors that have an impact on the well-being of children with ASD and their parents, to gain a better understanding of how they influence each other. As she pursues a doctoral degree in clinical developmental psychology at York, Shine hopes this research will lead to a better understanding of the way parents and children with ASD influence each other, improve treatment planning for children with ASD and provide better supports for families.

Karen Black

Black will receive $18,000 for her master’s degree research involving the study of mindfulness training for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD can experience difficulties interpreting how bodily sensations connect to one’s emotions. Mindfulness-based therapy can help children to “tune in” to bodily sensations through techniques such as noticing, describing and acceptance. Black hopes to study physiological changes during mindfulness practice to improve understanding of the impact mindfulness activities can have on children with ASD. Black is completing her first year as a master’s student at York University, studying clinical developmental psychology with a specialization in neuropsychology.

“The work of these Ontario researchers will lead to a better understanding of the way parents and children with ASD influence each other, improve treatment planning for children with ASD and provide better supports for families and communities across the province,” said David Lindsay, president and CEO of Council of Ontario Universities.

With the support of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD), The Scholar Awards Program in Autism was established, with the support of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD), to ensure that Ontario attracts and retains pre-eminent scholars. The community of autism scholars fostered by this awards program aims to excel, according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence, in the creation of new knowledge concerning child autism, and its translation into improved health for children, more effective services and products for children with autism, and increase the province’s capacity in diagnosis and assessment of autism and a strengthened treatment system.

According to Lindsay, autism is now the fastest growing and most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder in Canada and the prevalence of ASD has doubled over the last decade. One in 68 children are currently diagnosed with ASD, while mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression are common in individuals with ASD and their families.

“Ontario’s universities are proud to work with our partners to educate and train tomorrow’s future makers, while helping to develop and maintain our robust health-care system,” said Lindsay. “We commend these individuals for expanding the bounds of knowledge about autism, and in this way helping to build a brighter future for Ontario.”

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