The FACT Internship: A Reflection

By Jordan Grapel '16, Contributing Writer 

My name is Jordan Grapel and this summer I was in New Haven as part of the FACT internship (Furthering Awareness Community and Technology). The FACT internship is funded by Skidmore Academic Services (SAS), a program that allows students to spend the summer studying a particular disability or assistive technology. SAS will provide a participating student with a $4000 stipend if he or she can find a facility that is researching their topic of choice and plans to work there for a total of 250 hours over the course of 8-12 weeks.

In my case, I chose to study Autism Spectrum Disorder, I then spent the summer at the Yale Child Study Center. I worked under Dr. Fred Volkmar, Director of the Yale Child Study Center, Chief of Psychiatry at the Yale New Haven Hospital, and the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Together we spent the summer working on a study regarding sensitivity in people diagnosed with Autism. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-V) lists hyper or hypo-sensitivity to sensory stimuli as a diagnostic criteria for Autism. Dr. Volkmar and I compared measures of hyper and hypo-sensitivity in subjects with Autism with measures of hyper and hypo-sensitivity in subjects with other mental disorders. Dr. Volkmar tasked me with locating all of the subjects’ information through a Yale database while using chi-squares to compare the data. The results of our study are going to be published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.

Dr. Volkmar also put me in charge of reviewing the book, Puzzled: 100 Pieces of Autism, by Nilla Childs. Puzzled is an autobiography about the life of a woman whose son had undiagnosed Autism for most of his life. The review I wrote for that book was published and is currently in the Journal of Autism.

Dr. Volkmar knew this internship was supposed to be a learning experience for me, so he took it upon himself to make sure I spent as much time reading about Autism as I did researching it. He enrolled me in his online Autism class, where several Yale students and I learned everything there is to know about Autism.  Dr. Volkmar assigned the class several readings, and had us watch many lectures by him and several other leading professionals in the field of Autism research. That class went over everything from the genetics of autism, to the philosophy of treating and educating people with Autism. I also attended several lectures and panels in Yale’s auditorium. Dr. Volkmar and I visited an elementary school for children with disabilities and a facility for adults with Autism to see first hand how this disorder treated.

My favorite part of the internship was that every Tuesday morning I got to sit in on a case review. Dr. Volkmar and several other trained professionals would get together and discuss a young child. They would talk about his/her diagnosis, what his/her parents and teachers had to say about him/her, and what medication, if any he/she was on. Then one of the professionals would sit in a room with the boy or girl and give him/her some sort of test (it varied from child to child) while the rest of us watched via Skype. I enjoyed this because it reflects the exact kind of work I hope to do myself some day therefore it was exhilarating to actually see it right before my eyes.

The FACT internship was an enriching experience that not only allowed me to study Autism, something I wish to do for a career, but it also enabled me to be a published writer. If you are interested in spending the summer researching the disability of your choice, you should definitely consider applying for the FACT internship. To do so contact Jamin Totino in the Starbuck Center. It is a very fulfilling and rewarding experience.


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