Excellence in Autism Support Award Goes to Delaware UCEDD Research Manager

January 12, 2022

For her “Outstanding Research on Autism in Higher Education,” Jessica Monahan, research manager with the University of Delaware Center for Disabilities Studies’ Spectrum Scholars program, has won an inaugural Excellence in Autism Support award from the College Autism Network

Monahan’s research examines college and career readiness for students with disabilities, seeking to refine educators’ understanding of the supports necessary for those students to succeed in adult life. Spectrum Scholars, a University of Delaware-JPMorgan Chase partnership, is a comprehensive college-to-career program for UD undergrads on the autism spectrum.  

For its Excellence in Autism Support award, the College Autism Network recognized Monahan’s work in these areas: 

  • Monahan led a COVID-19 impact study for autistic college students that asked how they felt about returning to campus in the fall of 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Students who participated in the study were most concerned about getting sick or getting other people sick with COVID-19 and were least worried about their own ability to follow safety guidelines. The findings of this study were shared with autism support program staff across the country through a peer-reviewed articlefact sheet and presentations at national conferences. 
  • Leading a team of researchers and an autistic advocate, Monahan published a paper that critiqued studies of social skills interventions for young adults. The results of the review showed that most social skills interventions were created by adults without autism. The types of skills taught in these interventions were based largely on what people without autism expect everyone to do (e.g., eye contact) without considering the physical and emotional challenges that exist when autistic people are forced to fit into a “normal.” 
  • Monahan co-led a team funded by the Organization for Autism Research that worked with the autistic community to take an existing evidence-based anxiety intervention and make it appropriate for college students. After hearing from autistic college students about their anxiety on campus, Monahan worked with an Advisory Board of autistic college students to change the intervention so that it would be appropriate for college students. The modified intervention was implemented in the fall of 2021.
  • Working with researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute, Monahan is leading a study of a standard mental health screening instrument used nationally in college counseling centers. The team is examining the Counseling Center Assessment of Psychological Symptoms (CCAPS-62) to learn if the tool works for autistic college students in the same way that it does for college students without autism.  

“Jessica’s groundbreaking research has been critical for propelling forward our understanding of autistic college students’ experiences,” said Brian Freedman, director of Postsecondary Transition Programs at CDS. “In particular, her dedication to incorporating autistic voices in her research is noteworthy. She ensures that autistic people are not just the subjects of research, but rather that they are guiding the methods and conclusions that researchers and practitioners draw from the research, which will in turn likely promote stronger outcomes.”