April 23, 2012

Autism center’s clinic director earns state honor

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The clinic director for Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders will receive a state award for her work in the field.

Kirsten Schaper, a speech-language pathologist, will receive the Autism Ally Education Award from The Autism Program of Illinois and The Arc of Illinois (www.thearcofil.org), an advocacy agency for those with disabilities.  The award acknowledges an educator, aide or administrator for commitment to training, expansion of educational resources, and/or developing an extraordinary partnership with parents to nurture the growth of a student with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The award presentation will take place this week at the annual Arc of Illinois and The Autism Program Annual Convention in Lisle.

Schaper became clinic coordinator and senior lecturer at the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders in 2008 after having served as clinical instructor since 2004.  Her work includes screening and evaluating children for possible autism spectrum disorders, working with local educators and early intervention providers on behalf of the children, training and supervising student clinicians in providing therapy and evaluations of children, and assisting parents and caregivers in providing help for their children.

ASD encompasses a wide range of complex brain development disorders and they affect about 1 in 110 American children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Research indicates that earlier, more intensive treatments lead to better results and outcomes with children with ASD, Schaper said. 

The University’s Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, founded in 2003, provides treatment for children as young as one year of age.  It is a demonstration lab, helping children and families while serving as an educational experience for SIU Carbondale students and a training site for professionals in the field.  The center’s work is constantly expanding, with programs in area schools and clinical settings, an after-school program and work in progress to establish a program to assist high school students with ASD transition to successfully complete college and obtain careers.

A double alumna of SIU Carbondale, Schaper completed her master’s in communication disorders and sciences in 2003 and her master’s in arts and linguistics in 2001.  She also holds a bachelor’s degree in English, completed in 1998 at Southeast Missouri State University.

Schaper’s recently completed rigorous training at the University of Illinois-Chicago with Jennifer Gorsky, who trained directly with Catherine Lord, creator of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).  She said the assessment is reliable and well respected but difficult to administer and score.  The reliability training provided intensive work in administration and scoring with the test authors. 

“The ADOS and Autism Diagnostic Interview -- Revised (ADI-R) are the gold standards in autism diagnostic assessments.  SIU’s Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders is thrilled to be able to work collaboratively with faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who were either students or collaborators with Dr. Catherine Lord, developer of these instruments.  Having a staff member at our center who is reliability trained means that we administer and score the assessment consistently with Dr. Lord’s world-renowned group and this sets our center apart from others that use these assessments.  It is a real feather in our cap that Kirsten pursued this training and has reached this level in her own work with the ADOS,” said Ruth Anne Rehfeldt, director of the center and professor in the Behavior Analysis and Therapy Program.

Moreover, Rehfeldt said Schaper’s certification also allows the center to conduct research using the ADOS.