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Four master’s of speech-language pathology students have translated an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) resource from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute into Spanish in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resource, spearheaded by division alumna Jessica Dykstra Steinbrenner (’13 PhD; ’04 MS) and Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy PhD student Susan Szendry, provides seven strategies to support individuals with ASD through uncertain times.

Natasha Awad, a first-year student, volunteered to translate the document. The Miami, Florida, native speaks Spanish and is a first-generation college student. She explained that her family, from Cuba, lacked ASD resources, despite a family member’s diagnosis.

Natasha Awad
Natasha Awad

“In normal life, it’s a condition that could already be misunderstood and judged,” Awad explained. “Especially now during the pandemic, it’s important to support those individuals and their families.”

Awad explained individuals with ASD and their caregivers often rely on the predictability of routines.

“It’s really important to understand what families can do at home and replace what they used to do,” Awad said.

Emmie Costen, who is also a master of speech-language pathology student, said her experience translating ASD resources into Spanish during undergrad drew her to this opportunity.

“It’s a great way to practice Spanish, and it’s absolutely necessary that people who speak Spanish get these materials as well,” Costen said.

Both Costen and Awad said it can often be difficult to find resources like these in languages other than English. Awad said more providers are needed in North Carolina who speak languages other than English.

“It’s really an issue that a lot of people can’t get these resources,” Costen said. “Providing them with tools to be used in the home on a day-to-day basis is helpful for children who are out of school and dysregulated.”

Emmie Costen
Emmie Costen

Costen said speech-language pathologists can work to provide resources like these as part of the profession’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 canceled a lot of things, but it didn’t cancel these disorders, hearing loss, or other developmental disabilities. These are still happening,” she said.

So far, the document has been translated into nine languages, including Chinese, Arabic, and Czech.

“It has the potential to reach such a large, diverse, audience,” Awad said. “If families find just one strategy or resource to be useful, that’s something positive.”

The Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences is housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. In spring 2020, U.S. News & World Report ranked its master’s program as #8 in the country.