Newswise — Waiting in line at the grocery store is frustrating for many of us, but for people with autism spectrum disorders, the experience can be downright unbearable.

“Waiting in line is a big issue,” says Rowan University professor S. Jay Kuder, chair of the University’s Department of Special Educational Services/Instruction.

“People with autism spectrum disorders are usually not that good at anticipating situations. And when they don’t see a solution, they get upset and act up. Acting up gets them out of the uncomfortable situation.”

To assist people with autism spectrum disorders in social situations—particularly teens and young adults—Kuder and a partner developed Mi-Stories, videotaped scenarios of common situations that are downloadable, and readily available, on Apple i-Pods.

Kuder wrote scripts for the scenarios--crossing the street, shopping in the grocery store, eating in a restaurant. Students in a class taught in 2008 by Rowan Radio/Television/Film Professor Chandrasekhar Vallath filmed the 90-second videos locally.

“The scenarios were based on what parents told us were issues,” says Kuder, who developed the videos in collaboration with Debbie Lord of Ken-Crest Services in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. “They were chosen because they represent challenges for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

“In the videos, we use highly controlled language. We give positive examples of how individuals could act in each situation.”

The use of the iPod not only makes the videos portable, it also targets an important-to-reach population of young adults, Kuder notes.

“The use of the IPod enables individuals with autism to access the videos at all times in an inconspicuous manner and it’s also age-appropriate.

“The tapes have a calming effect,” Kuder continues. “The individual pulls out an iPod and as far as anyone knows, they’re listening to music. “Being an adolescent is challenging. But being an adolescent with disabilities is really challenging. Their problems don’t go away.”

A pilot study of Mi-Stories by Kuder and Lord showed that six of seven boys with autism who viewed the tapes over a three-week period exhibited improvements in their abilities to successfully complete community-based social tasks, use appropriate communication more frequently, and improve their behavior of social situations.

But the biggest gains among the boys, ages 8 to 13, were in their communication skills, says Kuder, who conducted the study at Durand Academy in Woodbury.

“Communication was where we saw the biggest improvement. That’s the biggest problem with people who are autistic. They lack social language skills,” says Kuder, who has submitted the study to the Journal of Autism.

For Kuder, special education—and autism in particular—is an intriguing field. The Moorestown resident, who studies language disorders, is focusing the rest of his career specifically on autism spectrum disorders.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more children than ever are being identified as having autism spectrum disorders. And New Jersey has one of the highest rates of autism spectrum disorders in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I like the challenge of special education. I really like trying to help people who need something different. I find it interesting,” says Kuder, who serves as the program advisor for the University’s new Certificate of Graduate Study (COGS) in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The COGS was developed to meet the increasing need for teachers and other school and behavioral professionals to understand autism spectrum disorders and to teach and manage children with the disorders. Rowan’s College of Education has one of the largest teacher preparation programs in New Jersey.

To increase the understanding of autism spectrum disorders, Kuder is organizing Rowan’s first-ever autism conference in the spring. Scott Michael Robertson, a doctoral student in information sciences and technology at Penn State, will give the keynote address at the conference on March 15. Robertson, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, has published and lectured widely on the college experiences of students with autism, technology and disabilities, and the quality of life for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“Autism presents all of us—teachers, parents, researchers—with significant challenges,” says Kuder. “It’s gratifying to make strides to try to better understand children with autism and to help them improve their lives.”

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