Student Spotlight: Ashley Freuler

Occupational Science PhD candidate Ashley Freuler successfully defended her dissertation in the spring of 2013 and will graduate in August.

Student Spotlight: Ashley Freuler click to enlarge Ashley Freuler

Her dissertation, titled “Facing Challenges on Two Fronts:  Exploring the Process of Resilience for Military Families Raising a Child with Autism,” centers around the experiences of military families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

Freuler’s interest in children with ASD and military families started during her graduate teaching assistantship at Kansas State University’s (KSU) Early Childhood Laboratory.  During Freuler’s graduate work, her husband was deployed twice with the Army to Iraq.  As an Army community services volunteer, Freuler became familiar with military culture and had the opportunity to work with parents of children with ASD. 

After Freuler’s time at KSU, she earned a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology at Mercer University in Atlanta.  Freuler’s clinical internships highlighted the enormous impact an ASD diagnosis has not only on the lives of children, but also on their families.  As she continued working with families of children with ASD, her curiosity about the impact of ASD on the family system kept growing.  Freuler then began looking into doctoral programs that would provide her with the knowledge and skills for conducting research with families who were raising a child with ASD. The Occupational Science program at UNC stood apart from other schools because of its interdisciplinary nature.

Throughout her tenure at UNC, Freuler worked on two interdisciplinary projects, the Sensory Experiences Project and the Early Development Project.  As part of these projects she conducted observations and interviews with caregivers and children and a qualitative retrospective video analysis of infant home videos.  Freuler wanted to stay in direct contact with families during her research experiences and qualitative methods allowed her to do so.  She says that qualitative research methods “provide an opportunity for caregivers and families to directly contribute to research and practice that will optimally benefit not only their family, but other families like theirs.” 

With her graduate studies complete, Freuler has accepted a position as Project Coordinator with UNC’s Program for Early Autism Research, Leadership & Service (PEARLS).

Freuler’s focus on family extends outside the academic realm.  Her family, including her husband, 3-year-old son, twin infant sons, and three dogs, enjoys backyard campfires, outdoor music events, and hiking the Eno River.

-By Katie M. Belardi

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