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Since OAR’s Graduate Research Grant Program was established in 2004, OAR has awarded over $222,800 in grants to fund 127 graduate research studies. These reviews describe the results of two recently completed studies.


Using Apps for Appointment Completion

Rachel Wright, a doctoral student at the University of Tennessee, completed an OAR-funded study, “IDirect My Supports,” in 2016 to examine the effects of a context-aware smartwatch application to teach college students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability to self-manage appointments and tasks.

Three male students with ASD and intellectual disability who attended a postsecondary education (PSE) program at a large university participated in the study. Baseline, pre-training, and intervention sessions took place in the participants’ digital literacy class, a course specially designed for the PSE program.

Using two apps on the smartwatch, participants entered appointments for the upcoming week and four tasks associated with each appointment. GuruWear provides a mobile or web-based platform for creating visual, step-by-step routines. MoveUp!, an alarm app, was used to enter appointment information and save it as an alarm.

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All three participants successfully used the apps to enter appointments for the coming week and complete the tasks associated with each appointment. Before using the apps, baseline measures indicated that none of the participants’ appointments were completed. While using the smartwatch and apps, they completed 97 percent of appointments. When the smartwatch and apps were not available, the average percentage went down to 9 percent, going back up to 97 percent when the smartwatch was returned. Although the small sample size is a limitation, each participant was unique in his characteristics, skills, strengths, and challenges.

The ability to self-manage supports, including appointments and tasks, and to be free from the constant verbal direction of others are the most relevant findings of this study for persons with autism. For parents, the app could empower their child to independently manage their own schedules in a way that is socially acceptable and generalizable across devices and platforms. For teachers and caregivers, it can help teach the necessary skills for independence in adulthood and those that will increase the availability of future opportunities for their students.


Examining College Social Experiences

Monique Colclough, a doctoral student at Old Dominion University, also completed an OAR-funded study, “Exploring the Social Experiences of College Students Who Have Autism Spectrum Disorders: Examining Neurodiversity on Campus,” in 2016. Her study looked at the social experiences of students with autism that encourage persistence and retention in college.

Six college students, ranging in age from 19 to 36 and all diagnosed with ASD, were interviewed and the interviews were analyzed to gain a full understanding of their campus experiences. Financial concerns led all but one of the students to live at home, with recognition that this choice did influence their social engagement on campus.

While half of the participants engaged in campus social events, the other half shared that they were either cautiously engaged or did not engage in social events. Engagement was influenced by the size of the crowd, potential noise levels and being unable to control the levels, general lack of interest, and anxiety associated with being spread too thin and not being able to focus appropriately on academics.

All of the participants recalled their relationships with faculty with fondness and admiration. Building connections with faculty through selecting a major, academic achievement, and related topics furthered student connections to campus. Familial support, connections with faculty, and friendships with peers off campus were influential in their college persistence and retention.