[New publication] “Experiences Participating in Community Physical Activity by Families with a Child on the Autism Spectrum: a Phenomenological Inquiry”

Abstract; Objectives: Families with a child on the autism spectrum face challenges to participating in physical activity in the community. Yet, little research has examined these families’ experiences and perspectives on such participation. Methods: This phenomenological study used semistructured interviews to collect data from 13 families with a child on the autism spectrum to understand their experiences as a family attempting to access physical activity opportunities. Results: Families discussed four overall themes related to participating in physical activity in the community: (1) safety outside the home, (2) lack of acceptance, (3) behavior affecting the family participation, (4) and limited opportunity for activity. Conclusions: Evidence suggests that physical activity can provide tremendous opportunities to build better connections within the community and improve quality of life, but the barriers discussed by parents in the present study suggest that families and their children on the autism spectrum might not yet have the same opportunities for access or support.

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Update: Articles in press, under review, and in preparation

Over the last semester, I have been fortunate enough to have some time to work on getting a few manuscript out. Below are the articles I have had published and are in press, the ones under review, and in preparation. All articles have their accompanying abstracts. If you wish to know more, please do not hesitate to contact me. 

In press

“Try to do the best you can”: How pre-service APE specialists experience teaching students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

 At the International Journal of Special Education,  should be out any day.

Abstract: Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) present an exceptional need for varied instruction within the physical education environment. Adapted physical educators need to be prepared to make a significant amount of choices in regards to adaptations and modifications given the situations they may encounter with their students. However, many pre-service adapted physical education (APE) specialists may be unprepared to address the unique challenges faced with children with ASD’s ever increasing presence in the classroom. This study involved interviews and observations of four pre-service APE specialists who were working one-on-one with a child with ASD during a practicum. In this analysis four factors, 1) physical environment, 2) instructional strategies, 3) behavioral issues, and 4) personal discernment, surfaced as major influences in the decision making of the pre-service teacher. This analysis looks to build a foundational understanding of how this relationship exists in the APE setting with children with ASD. This study reveals that pre-service teacher have limited knowledge which leads to an inability to make important instructional decisions and overcome barriers that arise with children with ASD. Teacher-training programs should address these concerns in order to build confident and successful teachers. 


Make task constraints work for you: Teaching object control skills to students with autism spectrum disorder. 

With Martin Block

At the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, out early 2016.

Abstract: Teaching object-control skills to students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult to accomplish due to the unique challenges posed by the individual, however it is necessary for the student’s future success and ability to perform physical activity. Utilizing concepts from Dynamic Systems Theory and Newell’s Constraint Approach (Newell, 1986), object- control tasks can be broken into teachable components in a manner that can be obtained. Through utilization of task constraints, student’s motor movements are influenced into the correct pattern. The Test of Gross Motor Development, 2nd Edition (TGMD-2) (Ulrich, 2000) was used as a framework for selecting six object-control skills to demonstrate how a task constraint model can be used to teach these skills to students with ASD. 


Under Review

Analyzing how autism severity affects motor and social skills: An exploration using the SFARI base dataset. 

With Ronald Reeve

Submitted to Focus on Autism andOther Developmental Disorders.

Abstract: Social communicative deficits and stereotyped or repetitive interests/behaviors are the defining features of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (APA, [DSM-5], 2013). A growing body of research suggests that gross motor deficits are also present in most children with ASD (Liu, 2012). This study sought to understand how ASD severity is related to motor skills and social skills in children with ASD. A MANOVA analysis of 483 children with autism (N = 444) and autism spectrum disorder (N = 39) revealed a non-significant difference between groups. When looking at the univariate means of the dependent variables, participants in the less severe (autism-spectrum) group performed arithmetically higher on both gross motor and social measures, although at non-significant levels. Results suggest there is little difference between severity groups on gross motor and social skills; however, results may be limited to the age range of the participants (about 5.6 years of age).


In Preparation

Informed consent in research: Working with children with autism spectrum disorder

With Megan MacDonald

Plan to submit to Adapted Physical Education Quarterly. 

Abstract: Informed consent has been a foundational principle of human subjects research since the Nuremberg trials in the 1940’s after World War II. However, it is still an ethical area of concern for many areas of research, especially those that work with vulnerable populations. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are characterized by deficits in social communication behavior and have been, stereotypically, associated with little verbal behavior. Because ASD is a spectrum, encompassing a great variety of abilities, researchers must have firm understanding of the participants as individuals when incorporating them in research studies. In these cases, where a participant is deemed unable to consent for him or herself or is under the age of 18, parent consent and child assent are used as a comparable means of gaining informed consent; however, child assent should not always be assumed with parent consent. It must be understood that, like the typical consent process, the assent process in an ongoing task and that with children with ASD the display of discrete behaviors can be signs of either assent or dissent. This article gives a brief history of informed consent and assent concerns associated with research using children, as well as details several ways to understand assent with children with ASD.


Exploring the effect of gender and disability on gross motor performance in kindergarten children: An analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (ECLS-K) dataset. 

Plan to submit to The Physical Educator. 

Background. Gross motor movement is a vital part of the growing process and ultimately plays a role in the ability to lead a physically active life. Researchers have been, and continue, to analyze the different ways in which individuals develop skills. At the heart of that discussion has been gender. Most recently, researchers have focused on the differences among various forms of disability. However, little has been done to understand how these variables interact with each other in the development of gross motor skills. Objective. Therefore, this study sought to explore the interaction of disability and gender on gross motor performance. Methods. Utilizing a national dataset, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 dataset (ECLS-K), researchers utilizes a 2x2 Factorial ANOVA to understand the effects of gender and disability on gross motor score. Results. A large sample (N = 16,960) was utilized to indicate a significant interaction effect of gender and disability, as well as significant main effects. Conclusions. Results suggest that both gender and disability have an effect on gross motor performance; specifically, it is revealed that boys with disabilities are at a higher risk for having low gross motor skills.


Building guidelines for using the gross motor assessments with children with autism spectrum disorder: A pilot study using the Test of Gross Motor Development. 

With Luke Kelly

Plan to submit to Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 

Abstract: A growing body of research suggests that a gross motor deficit is prevalent among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) (Berkeley et al., 2001; Fournier, Has, Naik, Lodha, & Cauraugh, 2010; Janziewicz, et al., 2006; Green, et al., 2002; 2009; Liu, Hamilton; Davis, & ElGarhy, 2014; Ming, Brimacombe, & Wagner, 2007; Staples & Reid, 2010; Whyatt & Craig, 2012). Additionally, children with ASD have deficits in social communication, making the administration of standardized assessments difficult (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Many researchers cite in study procedures that adjustments were made to assessment protocols to accommodated for the deficits, however, what lacks is a common guideline for these modifications; what was done to modify protocols in one study may have been different in another, making generalizations about motor development and ability across the ASD spectrum difficult. Utilizing 9 participants with ASD between the ages of 5 and 12, this study sought to make suggestions for a common protocol to use for future ASD research. This study found no significance effect based on the type of protocol on the performance of the motor tasks, the amount of time needed, or the overall understanding, however, there was a significant effect when looking and individual contrasts between groups on the understand of the participant about what was being asked during each protocol and time needed for the assessment. The practical implications are discussed. 


Understanding parents: Designing quality interviews to elicit in-depth responses from parents of children with special needs. 

Plan to submit to … 

Abstract: Interviews are a commonly utilized research method within most qualitative inquiries. This method can provide a great amount of insight into the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of an individual surrounding his or her experiences. Often parents are used as proxies to their children in cases where the child has a disability and is unable to effectively communicate. However, simply asking the good questions is not enough to provide useful insight into their world. So, how does a researcher communicate with parents to allow for insightful inquiry and build interpretation? This article discusses the necessity for thoughtful inquiry when conducting interviews, in order to ensure trustworthy evidence. Further, suggestions are provide to assist in guiding the development of the interview itself, as it is often an overlooked and ill-reported on facet of interview research. Examples from recent physical activity researcher involving parents of children with disabilities has been included to provide further insight into how to effectively conduct an interview.


The roll of dynamic systems theory in motor development research: How does theory inform practice and what are the implications for autism spectrum disorder? 

Plan to submit to …

Abstract: Dynamic Systems Theory (DST; Newell, 1986) outlines three constraints (i.e. individual, task, and environment) that influence the emergence of a behavior. According to DST, these constraints interact with one another to self-organize and create a spontaneous behavior. For many researchers studying motor development, this spontaneous behavior refers to the production of motor movement. Furthermore, DST states that all development occurs nonlinearly, as individuals will produce behaviors when the constraints influence it to occur.  DST provides an explanation for the variability and spontaneous movement that occurs from individual to individual. Further, this theory suggests that if one constraint changes the others will adapt to produce a new behavior, thus suggesting if one constraint is purposely manipulated, an individual’s motor pattern will change. This could be a very powerful tool in developing interventions for individuals who have a motor deficit, as well as another disability, such as autism that have difficulty with typical verbal direction and social cues. While this theory is widely accepted as one of the major explanations of motor development, it is unknown how it is being utilized to inform the development of interventions. In this review, the author found 12 instances in the literature where DST had been used to analyze, test, or manipulate motor patterns and movement. These 12 studies were analyzed for commonalities in design, subjects, and outcomes. Overall, the studies report a positive effect from the manipulation of constraints with respect to a change in motor pattern. Only one intervention study was found. Suggestions for future research and the implications for use with children with ASD are discussed.