Student project helps reach children with autism

A project-based thesis by three Dominican Occupational Therapy graduate students is assisting Marin County agencies in breaking down cultural barriers in the Hispanic community to identify children on the autism spectrum and connect parents to support and services.

Tiffany Chi, Isaac Stahlhut and Monica Guzman have created a 14-page fotonovela, a culturally-relevant, photo based health education resource guide, for the Marin Autism Collaborative (MAC).

MAC’s goal is for the fotonovela, titled “Pablo’s Story: Learning About Autism,” to engage a broader Hispanic audience and spread statewide as a universal resource. A California Senate committee currently is reviewing the publication. Stahlhut also is working with the Bay Area nonprofit Lifehouse, which serves teens and adults with developmental learning challenges, to make the fotonovela accessible on Lifehouse’s website.

 “It’s amazing,” said Meg Cadiz, Director of Development for Lifehouse. “The bilingualism and the way they design it is great and reaches exactly the audience they were looking for. Isaac, Tiffany and Monica took it to another level.”

“We’re hoping that we can expand on this because we were so impressed with the quality of the Dominican students,” said Nancy Dow Moody, Lifehouse President and CEO.

With direction from Matrix, Golden Gate Regional Center and Rocio Smith, who worked for Area Board 5, Guzman, who is bilingual, conducted a series of interviews with mothers of children with autism.

“In the Hispanic culture, the mother plays a big role in a child’s life. Often times, it is the mother who initially notices that their child is not meeting developmental milestones,” Chi says. “Therefore, it is they who initially seek help from professionals to help their child receive services he/she need.”

With Guzman’s interviews, Stahlhut and Chi created a comprehensive script then a storyboard that reflected the lack of awareness and abundance of anxiety surrounding autism in the Hispanic community. Stahlhut recruited family and friends to be actors for still photographs and organized the locations for the photo shoot. Chi arranged the photos and added balloon dialogue (in English and Spanish with Guzman’s translation) using Comic Life 2 software. With the aid of John Duvall, Assistant Professor of Communications, a storyboard was produced.

“This is one project that just blew me out of the water,” said Stacy Frauwirth, Assistant Professor in the OT Department at Dominican. “It speaks volumes about our students that, starting from zero, they are capable of being able to produce something of this high quality.”

Frauwirth and Dominican have a long standing partnership with the Lifehouse Agency and MAC. Last year she was invited to join a MAC Youth sub-committee, chaired by autism consultant Karen Kaplan, which strives to improve resources for children up to age 16. The committee determined that parents in the Hispanic community needed more education about Autism.

Frauwirth’s students were seeking a project that would address the underserved. A thesis was born.

“It’s not just a thesis. It’s not just a project. It’s my hope that it’s going to go beyond our tenure at Dominican,” Guzman says. “We’ve put all this work into it and we want it to be an effective tool, not something that’s just going to be on a shelf somewhere.”

Click here for English version of "Pablo's Story: Learning About Autism" fotonovela.


Media Contact: Dave Albee (415) 257-1308 or [email protected].