For college students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new hurdles and challenges, like searching for jobs online and attending virtual interviews, according to experts. That’s why researchers in the College of Education, led by Stephen Silverman, Ed.D., dean and professor, are conducting a variety of studies to help understand the effects of the pandemic, with the hopes of creating tools to help them thrive.
“Once COVID hit, we had to think about our options. Everyone is staying home, and so we thought, why can’t we deliver coaching remotely?” said Michael Brady, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the department of exceptional student education.
Silverman collaborates with Brady, who conducts studies for the FAU Academy for Community Inclusion (ACI), a college program for high school graduates who have been diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program allows students to earn certificates in supported employment, supported community access and supported community living. These specialized support programs allow high school graduates who have been diagnosed with IDD, maintain and improve their independence.
The academy opened in 2016 designed for adults with IDD and currently has 37 students and 16 graduates. “When they walk across the stage and shake President (John) Kelly’s hand, they have a job,” Brady said. “It brings a tear to your eye.”
But the pandemic has caused new obstacles for these academy students. “The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for remote delivery tools for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Brady said. Now, current studies range from examining how to teach students to develop realistic goals and job interests, to emailing, using zoom and navigating through campus.
Here’s a look in more detail at some of the studies being done at FAU’s College of Education.
- Lisa Finnegan, Ph.D., assistant professor, Gwendolyn Carey, Ed.D., instructor, and Brianna Joseph, instructor, examine the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) that attend a post-secondary education program. It is believed that adults with ID have been impacted similarly to, or greater than those without.
- Angelica Downey, M.Ed., a curriculum and training specialist, researched teaching virtual job interview skills to college students with ID using literacy-based behavioral interventions (LBBIs), a teaching strategy that combines literacy with rehearsal. This study examined the effects of LBBIs delivered via a video conference platform on the acquisition of virtual job interview skills. Students used the intervention to learn to answer employers’ interview questions remotely. Results indicate that these interventions were effective in teaching virtual job interview skills, which were maintained once the intervention was removed, and used with novel employers.
- Kelly Kearney, Ph.D., is an instructor and the lead principal investigator on a project that taught “small talk” to college students with IDD using remote audio coaching. Specifically, she explored the effectiveness of remote audio coaching to teach social conversation skills to college students with IDD. Results demonstrated that this coaching effectively increased small talk skills.
- Kearney is also collaborating with Ayse Torres, Ph.D., an assistant professor of rehabilitation in the Department of Counselor Education, to explore the effectiveness of LBBIs for the acquisition of job interviewing skills in people with IDD. Midway through the experiment the intervention had to be altered from in-person to a remote application of the intervention due to COVID closures. However, results demonstrated that both in-person and remote delivery of the LBBI were effective in helping participants (a) master job interviewing skills with 100% accuracy, and (b) maintain the newly acquired skills after the intervention was removed.
- Elsewhere in the College of Education, Elizabeth Villares, Ph.D., a professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling, is collaborating on a COVID-19 project to understand the virus’ effects on delivering counseling services, and how school counselors continue to address academic, social-emotional and career development of students. Additionally, Villares and her team will examine how counselor characteristics like degree, gender, ethnicity, years of experience and school characteristics, such as grade level, location, student-to-counselor ratios, as well as reported levels of trauma and crisis training and counselor burnout, influence the counselors' ability to implement their comprehensive school counseling programs.