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The Carolina Center for Public Service has awarded second-year occupational science PhD student Kierra Peak ‘14 with a 2020 Community Engagement Fellowship. Peak and her research partner, Lindsay Rentschler, a doctoral student in the School of Education, plan to host workshops to empower parents with adolescents who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Their joint project, titled “It’s Not Just Chores! A Daily Living Skills Workshop,” will be completed online in light of the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to a partnership with the Autism Society of North Carolina.

Peak and Rentschler hope to empower parents to help them work with their adolescents to achieve goals related to independent living in the comfort of their homes, especially during the pandemic.

“Learning is best done in the home setting with parents,” Peak said. “If work is continued at home, it will be more successful.”

Peak said an increase in ASD diagnoses has resulted in a need for more resources for adolescents to learn about meal preparation, budgeting, and interpersonal skills.

Prior to the pandemic, Peak and Rentschler conducted a survey to learn more about the resources and skills people need most. The workshops will be comprised of four focus areas, including setting goals, conducting a task analysis, and understanding problem-solving frameworks.

Peak hopes that the workshops will have the same effect as an in-person experience and perhaps will reach more people around the state and those from diverse backgrounds; it also allows for Peak and Rentschler to share additional resources online.

“With COVID-19, we have more time with our computers and on screens than before,” Peak said. Peak and Rentschler hope to provide accessible and convenient resources for workshop participants.

Peak hopes to host future in-person workshops and expressed gratitude for the partnership with the Autism Society of North Carolina.

Both Peak and Rentschler are participants in a leadership training grant funded through the U.S. Department of Education. This project developed during courses on community engaged research as part of this grant. Nancy Bagatell, director of the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, is supervising Peak and Rentschler on this project.

-Lizzy Laufters, public relations and communications intern

The Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. Its occupational therapy master’s degree is ranked #10 in the country according to U.S. News & World Report. Nancy Bagatell, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, joined the division in 2013.