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Autism experts at DePaul University discuss education, awareness

Scholars explain advances in representation and care for people with autism

child playing with blocks
Faculty experts can discuss strategies for teachers and parents of children with autism, as well as ways that theatre and mass media are becoming more inclusive for people with autism. ( Images Inc.)
CHICAGO — Advances in education and the arts are changing the lives of people with autism, and DePaul University experts are available to discuss their research on accessibility and care. Scholars can discuss designing theatre performances for people with autism, advances in special education, media representation of autism and other disabilities, and communication methods for adults and children with autism and their parents. Available experts include:

Linsey Sabielny, Assistant Professor of Special Education, College of EducationSabielny is an expert on instructional strategies and assessments of students with significant intellectual, physical and multiple disabilities, including those with autism. Sabielny is working in collaboration with The Theatre School at DePaul University to design a sensory-friendly performance of “Cinderella: The Remix” this spring. She can discuss community involvement and how to make theatre performances accessible to those with autism.

The aim for sensory friendly performances is for the performance to be as close to the original as possible, with only slight variations that make the audience more prepared and comfortable,” said Sabielny. “The ultimate goal of a sensory friendly performance is for individuals with sensory needs and their families to feel understood and accepted and to enjoy a wonderful theatre performance in a welcoming environment.”

Changes to the performance may include lighting, for instance keeping dim house lights on throughout the performance, or changing the direction of a particularly bright light, explained Sabielny. “Any sound or physical accommodations will usually involve changing the volume slightly or decreasing the likelihood of startle or surprise effects such as sudden loud noises or actors moving up and down the aisles,” she said. Sabielny can be reached at 773-325-2895 or

Paul Zionts, Dean of the College of Education. Zionts is an expert on educating children with emotional and behavioral disorders, and cognitive behavioral interventions. Zionts can discuss ways for parents and educators to engage children with autism.

“Parents of children with autism have the job of a parent doubled, and they are so busy that they are not expected to know everything,” Zionts said. “In special education programs our job is to help parents of children with autism create an environment where the child can be as successful as possible.” Zionts can discuss Individualized Education Programs and how parents can work with educators to set goals for their children.

“There are a million different ways to learn more about your child, and it’s not that different than having a normally developing child, except that you have to be more attentive,” said Zionts. He can be reached at 773-325-7581 or

Mojdeh Bayat, Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education, College of Education. Bayat is an internationally renowned expert on the education of children with developmental disorders. She can discuss innovative ways for parents and educators to facilitate communication for children with autism through a four-tiered approach. She can also detail her research of children with autism in West Africa.

“In my work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I consider families of the children as partners with educators,” Bayat said. She advises that teachers work closely with parents and use a multi-tiered approach to facilitate better communication for children with autism. This includes addressing the child’s maladaptive behaviors through behavioral methods; teaching social, communication, functional, and academic skills to the child through sensory integration-based activities; having  special weekly sessions that promote the emotional health of the child; and body-mind programs, which consists of physical activity followed by mindful practices. Bayat can be reached at 773-325-1687 or at

Eva Patrikakou, Associate Professor of Special Education, College of Education. Patrikakou is an internationally renowned expert on parent involvement and collaboration for children with and without disabilities. She also specializes in Response to Intervention, a method of identifying children with learning and behavior needs. She can discuss how parental involvement affects children’s academic, social, and emotional development. “Autism and other developmental disabilities are diagnosed prior to the child going to school, compared to other types of disabilities such as learning disabilities, so families have already covered a lot of distance trying to get their child appropriate supports,” Patrikakou said.

“It’s critical to have continuity between school and home interventions, so that students with autism can work on communication and behavior issues across settings. Providing students with various types of communication in the classroom, both low- or high-technology, and also working with parents to use them at home can have a significant positive impact on the development of communication skills. The key to having a successful intervention is an ongoing specific and explicit communication and collaboration between home and school, as well as amongst school personnel involved in each case.” Patrikakou’s most recently published article is “Parent Involvement, Media, and Technology: Now What?” which details how parents and schools can further use media and technology to aid children with autism. She can be reached at 773-325-2072 or

Veronica Appleton, Adjunct Faculty, Communication and Media, and Intercultural Communication, College of Communication. Appleton is a multicultural children’s book author and an expert on health communication and organizational learning. She can discuss representations of autism and disability in the media, including the character of Julia, the first Muppet with autism on “Sesame Street.” “Media serves a larger purpose than just entertainment,” said Appleton. “Media can provide children and their families an opportunity to really develop and grow through images that reflect who they truly are.”

 Appleton offers the following advice: “For parents it’s really important to develop a strong relationship with your child. Create a community of support around your child whether it is other family members, friends, teachers or others. They deserve the opportunity to really develop themselves as a human being.” Appleton can be reached at

Maureen Ryan, Adjunct Faculty, Media and Cinema Studies, College of Communication. Ryan is an expert on representation in media and film history. “Historically there have been so few representations of people with autism in television that it's been left out of media discussions of childhood, learning, and disability altogether,” Ryan said. “Because of that, there is a lot of confusion and mystery surrounding autism and how it affects people. Television hasn't done much to dispel that until very recently.”

In regards to the character of Julia, the new “Sesame Street” Muppet who has autism, Ryan said, “I'm hopeful that this new character will help reduce the stigma of autism in our society, especially for parents and children who do not have autism and don't really understand what it means to have autism. ‘Sesame Street’ is making Julia part of the community and explaining in a friendly way what it's like to have autism, and how you can better relate to people who have it.” Ryan can be reached at


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