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Other autism research at Marquette Dr. Norah Johnson, assistant professor of nursing, is developing because these children often have sensory deficits as well as motor interventions to decrease challenging behaviors and anxiety in children coordination deficits, and yet little is known of the etiology of these with autism during health care encounters. She is testing an iPad deficits or their learning deficits in general,” he says. Doctoral student application to see if preparing families in advance can reduce parent and Nicole Salowitz examined visuospatial processing differences between child anxiety and speed up procedure time during X-rays. children with autism and a control group, thought to be a significant Dr. Abir Bekhet, assistant professor of nursing, studies the effects contributor to autistic children’s movement problems. of positive cognitions, resourcefulness, and resilience in overcoming Wendy Krueger, clinical instructor with the Marquette University stress and adversity in vulnerable populations. Bekhet, with funding from Speech and Hearing Clinic, is incorporating music into speech-language the American Psychiatric Nurses Foundation, is working with Johnson to therapy sessions with young children with autism to see if it leads to a examine how nurses can help promote the health and functioning of significant increase in skills. An early pilot showed that music can be caregivers of those with autism spectrum disorders. used to calm or energize a child and keep him or her focused on therapy. Dr. Robert Scheidt, associate professor of biomedical engineering, “Perhaps most exciting, however, has been the increased engagement, studies motor control in children with autism. His lab’s overall focus is on awareness of others and verbal output that we have seen when how the brain uses sensory information to guide learning of movements clinicians communicate with the child via singing rather than speaking,” with the body. “Autistic children are an important population to study Krueger says. But PEERS isn’t just about improving a teen’s social life. Numerous studies have especially plastic, making it the perfect time to forge new pathways. One of the post-program measures is how often the teens are invited out by shown the detrimental effect social For an hour and a half each week, the isolation can have on physical and teens meet with a trained facilitator while has been around longer, shows that the mental health, including increasing one’s their parents meet separately. PEERS program’s influence lasts even three and risk of depression, anxiety and suicide. breaks down the social instincts that five years later. “Having at least one good relationship many take for granted. For example, to others. Data from UCLA’s program, which “It’s like we’re teaching these kids to — it’s quality, not quantity — is protec- break into a circle of people talking, you fish socially … once they get that kick, tive. And these kids who are isolated first eavesdrop to find a natural opening, that boost, they’re on a different path,” — if we don’t ameliorate that, they’re then wait for a pause before interjecting. Van Hecke says. just continuing on a path of negative If the circle doesn’t let you in, you feign outcomes. The areas of the brain that an excuse and slip away. respond to social stimulation may atrophy, “We all know what to do when things and once they atrophy, there’s not a lot get awkward. But kids with autism don’t,” we can do,” she says. she says. “So we teach them how to get Marquette’s program targets students 11–16 because Wisconsin only provides out of a situation and keep their cool.” Another session focuses on cliques For the Sansones, PEERS was worth the four-hour round-trip drive every week, even if Nick’s progress is slow but steady. “He definitely puts himself out there more. He hasn’t made any great friends yet, but he’s building a nice base of intensive intervention until age 11, though and crowds so that teens can figure acquaintances,” Michael Sansone says of the program will expand to autistic young out which group they might fit in with his son. “He likes school for the first time adults this fall. best. And there’s homework, too: Make in years, so that’s a big step, and we’re a phone call. Invite a classmate to hang confident friends will come in time.”² “We’re really trying to fill a gap in the community,” says Van Hecke. But puberty is also a critical intervention point because preadolescent brains are out. Parents are assigned to help their kids find a new extracurricular that could give them a fresh social platform. Marquette University 5

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