York graduate students sweep Autism Scholars Award

Michelle Viecili and Azin Taheri, graduate students in the Clinical Developmental Psychology program, have each been awarded the 2014-15 Autism Scholars Award.

Awarded annually to one student at both the master’s and doctoral level across Ontario, each receives $18,000 - $20,000 to support the creation of new knowledge concerning child autism and its translation into improved health for children, more effective services and products for children with autism, and to increase the province's capacity in diagnosis and assessment of autism and a strengthened treatment system.

Michelle Viecili

photo of student Michelle Viecili

Michelle Viecili

Doctoral student Michelle Viecili’s research spanning three degrees at York has focused on a range of areas related to the mental health of individuals with developmental disabilities.

Her current research focuses on the interpersonal experiences of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), specifically in the areas of sexuality and interpersonal violence. Her work will be the first study to ask adults with ASD about a broad range of experiences of interpersonal violence and explore factors that may be leading to an increased risk of victimization.

“This piece of research will provide important information to parents, clinicians, teachers, other professionals, and individuals with ASD about the factors that may be leading to increased risk for interpersonal violence,” she says. “Knowing factors that lead to increased risk may assist in the development of preventative programming.”

Viecili notes that York’s Psychology graduate program is one of the largest in Canada and, in turn, “there is a vast amount of training, scholarship, and research opportunities, as well as the ability to work and collaborate with leading researchers in their respective fields.”

She is currently recruiting adult participants with ASD for her study. More information is available at ddmh.lab.yorku.ca/studies/interpersonal-violence-in-adults-with-asd/.

Azin Taheri

photo of student azin taheri

Azin Taheri

Master’s student Azin Taheri’s research focuses on children with Autism and Developmental Disabilities (DD). In the past, she has examined the new DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for Autism, and is currently involved with a project evaluating the quality of intervention for children with Autism: The York Measure of Quality of Intensive Behavioural Intervention (YMQI).
“Using this measure, we plan to explore various factors that may impact the delivery of high quality of intervention,” notes Taheri. For her master's thesis, she plans to examine the social participation of children with severe DD in comparison to their typically developing peers, in addition to the factors that impact social participation for this population.

“I hope that my research will inform policy makers and professionals on efficient use of public resources and the delivery of high quality of services for children with Autism and DD,” she says. “The contributions I hope to make as a student, researcher, and clinician are part of a larger ambition to provide better outcomes for children with disabilities.”

Taheri notes she chose the Clinical Developmental Psychology program at York because “it is one of the largest and most unique programs of its kind in Canada.” The emphasis on research while undertaking clinical training and practice has enabled her to gain diverse and valuable experience in her field.

More information is available at psychology.gradstudies.yorku.ca/.

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