Steinhardt Researchers and Autistic Adults Aim to Bolster Self-Advocacy and Self-Esteem in Autistic Adolescents with New Web Site

Researchers at NYU  Steinhardt have teamed up with three autistic adults to launch a web site that provides resources aimed at instilling self-advocacy and self-esteem skills among adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The site, www.projectkeepitreal.com, is part of the “Keeping It Real” project, a partnership between NYU Steinhardt’s ASD Nest Support Project and three autistic adults—Jesse Saperstein, Zosia Zaks, and Dr. Stephen Shore—working in the ASD community.

The site includes three modules, developed by Saperstein, Zaks, and Shore, that can be used in middle schools to nurture students’ self-esteem and foster critical self-advocacy skills. These modules are composed of videos, PowerPoint presentations, classroom lessons, and follow-up activities that highlight the presenters’ experiences and expertise with both students and their teachers.

The modules focus on three discrete areas: adopting measures to stand up to bullying; channeling interests into social and vocational opportunities; and articulating needs and problem-solving with members of their community.

“These resources embody the project’s mission—empowering autistic individuals to take the lead in educating others about their experience,” said Kristie Patten Koenig, Ph.D., associate professor of occupational therapy and project director of the “Keeping It Real” campaign.

“A strength-based approach, rather than one that centers on remediating weaknesses, offers the most promising avenue for successfully addressing these challenges,” added Koenig, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy.

Supported by the FAR Fund and a $25,000 grant from Autism Speaks, the “Keeping It Real” project works in conjunction with the ASD Nest Support Project at NYU’s Metrocenter to develop strength-based models, services, and programs for middle-school children in the ASD Nest program, a New York City Department of Education program that educates children with ASD in inclusive classrooms alongside their peers.

As part of the project, the three ASD self-advocates traveled to participating ASD Nest schools educating teachers, staff, and middle school students on how to incorporate lessons of anti-bullying, self-advocacy, and the use of individual strengths and talents into the classroom and everyday school settings.