Seeing Across the Spectrum
Psychology students team up with business and education professors to support young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

On July 16, 14 young adults arrived at Trinity University to take part in Camp Summer on the Hill (SotH), a 5-day summer program that provides a learning environment for post-secondary skills to people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The camp is sponsored by Spectrum Community, a nonprofit chaired by business professor and ALE Faculty Fellow Rita Kosnik. This year marked the seventh SotH camp on Trinity’s campus.

ASD is a condition characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior. At SotH, Madison Carolin ’20 and Jessica Hernandez ’20 served as camp counselors, helping to facilitate skill-building activities that helped campers, all between the ages of 18 and 26, with getting jobs, social interactions, personal finance, and more that can help them gain a greater sense of independence and autonomy.

The Trinity students took on double duty at the camp, also using their interactions with the campers as research. Funded through the Herndon endowment under the guidance of Kosnik and Heather Haynes-Smith ’97, ’98, assistant professor of education, Hernandez and Carolin conducted a study that evaluated parents’ perceptions of their campers’ social and emotional skills. These perceptions were logged through online surveys, the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS) parent form, and a semi-structured interview with the researchers, all conducted before camp started. Then, the Trinity students then compared those perceptions with their actual interactions with the campers during SotH.  

Jessica Hernandez holding up a map for Camp Summer on the Hill students.

“During the camp, we are combining the roles of resident assistants with researchers,” Carolin says. “Our intentions are to not only improve the camp but improve instructional practices for working with these young adults.”

According to Haynes-Smith, this study had been in the works for more than a year. Carolin and Hernandez had both taken a course with Haynes-Smith and expressed interest in doing research on ASD. “We’re not the ‘no’ people. We’re the ‘yes’ people,” Haynes-Smith says. “We’re improving the camp’s operations, helping future students, and creating materials that help it sustain itself.”

After reviewing literature about evidence-based practices working with young adults with ASD, they then spent the next year doing an independent study.  “It’s really amazing to be a part of research that is so relevant and directly applicable,” Hernandez says. “There is a need for post-secondary support like Summer on the Hill, and we hope that our research can bring awareness to that need as well as influence other camps”

McKenna D. Parr '18 helped tell Trinity's story as an intern with the University communications team.

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