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Keoma Thorne (left) and Danielle Dyke are set to study autism and Asperger's syndrome.
the Gauntlet

Students study autism success stories

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Researchers from the University of Calgary, University of Manitoba and University of Saskatchewan are looking to shed some light on the often-misunderstood world of autism.

The group of professors and students from the division of applied psychology are conducting a study that focuses on 100 youth aged 17-21 diagnosed with high-functioning autism, or Asperger's syndrome. The study is designed to look at the under-studied adolescent demographic and assess the positive aspects of these points in the autism spectrum.

"What we're primarily interested in is promoting resiliency and successful life transitions in this population," said Danielle Dyke, a doctoral-level graduate student and co-investigator in the study. "[These kids] have unique social and emotional abilities as opposed to social and emotional deficits."

Dyke added there is existing literature regarding the link between resiliency and the social-emotional functioning of typical young adults, but there has been little study of higher-functioning autistic teenagers.

"They are a population that falls through the cracks," Dyke said. "[This group] often isn't supported in the community because they lack that severity in their cognitive challenges. We need to know more about them through this research and then we can advocate and lobby for better funding and support services."

The testing consists of several pencil and paper activities, computer tasks and games, as well as questionnaires for the parents and guardians of the subjects.

"The tests can actually be quite fun for the subjects," said Dyke.

The causes of autism and Asperger's syndrome are still largely unknown, and whether there is a distinction between the two is a much-debated topic in the medical community.

"There have been a lot of studies that try to distinguish between the two, but no one has come to any conclusive evidence," explained Keoma Thorne, another project co-investigator. "That's why we're looking at different aspects. Taking the resiliency approach, they might differ depending on how resilient they are."

With the results of the study, the team hopes to dispel some of the stereotypes in mainstream media and pop culture.

"With things like the savant skills, it's only in [approximately] 10 per cent of the autistic population," said Thorne. Savant skills refer to extraordinary mental abilities such as heightened artistic ability, high-functioning memory or mathematical skills.

"It's really insignificant but people seem to latch onto that," said Thorne.

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Comments

I can not begin to express how happy I am that someone is pursuing a study of"high-functioning" autism. My 25 yr old son was constantly "falling through the cracks"; still is. It has been a heartbreaking journey! I continue to struggle with getting him the help he so deperately needs. He works a full-time job @ Wal-Mart, but the depression, anxiety, obsessions, lonliness are overwhelming for him, at times.

This is great news and there is a huge need. My wife and I have a 17-year old Asperger's son who will be graduating in 2008. As I write this, we are not sure what he is going to do and have real concerns for his well-being "out there" in the real world.

For more information on participation in this project, please contact the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Research Group at:

ASD Research Group
Division of Applied Psychology, University of Calgary
2nd Floor, Education Block (Room 281)
2500 University Drive, N.W.
Calgary, Alberta, T2N 1N4
Phone: (403) 220-3642
Fax: (403) 282-9244
Email: asdgroup@ucalgary.ca


Interested Saskatchewan and Manitoba residents may contact:

Ms. Janine Montgomery
C/O Garnett Francis
University of Saskatchewan
Phone : (306) 270-4124
Email : jmn120@usask.ca

Ms. Janine Montgomery
University of Manitoba
Phone : (204) 474-8306
Email : montgom0@cc.umanitoba.ca

It is great to see people taking an active interest in this group of kids. Our son just turned 20 and was diagnosed with Asperger's in elementary school. He worked so hard to graduate from high school with his friends, but after high school, they are just left to fend for themselves. There is nothing out there to help them adjust as adults in the "real world". So happy to see people concerned about what happens to these kids as they grow into adults.

Well, I am not a Manitoban or Sasketchewanian, not even a Canadian, but I have to endure autism every day and it is absolutely Mount Everest for me every day.

I do have some intimate friends, but the word here is minuscule, but how can I discuss with them silly things like why the Dallas Cowboys are better then the New England Patriots, I'd rather talk about why I think Festus Mogae(President of Botswana) is a bellwether for Africa concerning AIDS treatment.

It's great to see a study here in the Dominion of Canada on young adults with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. As an Aspie, I was most fortunate to have had a lot of support where I am originally from - which is the United Kingdom of Great Britain. But since moving to the Dominion of Canada, I've struggled a fair bit. I can though see the day where there will be much support for people with Asperger's Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism especially in employment. PROSPECTS in the UKGB is a great service which can be modelled in all the provinces of Canada. Hawkins Institute is in Ontario which is a beneficial employment service for those with Autistic Spectrum Disorders