University of Calgary

Researcher seeks to uncover positives in autistic children

UToday HomeMarch 5, 2013

By Betty Rice

Theresa Jubenville is looking for the keys to reaching children with autism. Photo courtesy Theresa JubenvilleTheresa Jubenville is looking for the keys to reaching children with autism. Photo courtesy Theresa JubenvilleAnyone familiar with a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) knows they are often unable to connect with the outside world. Physical contact can be uncomfortable or awkward for them and they’re not always able to focus on interaction with others the way a child not affected by an ASD can.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t be reached. Despite the fact most research into ASD considers the deficits of children with the disorder, there are parents who have been successful in developing strong relationships with their ASD children. Theresa Jubenville believes the experiences and lessons they’ve learned can help others tap into positive parent-child relationships.

Jubenville, a graduate student in counseling psychology in the Faculty of Education, spent six years working as an aide with families of children with a range of disabilities. When it came to ASD, Jubenville noticed that some parents were able to form close relationships with their ASD children.

“This sparked my curiosity and in turn led to the development of my current master’s thesis,” she explains. “I believe there is much to be learned from these parents who have managed to build positive connections with their children, despite the inherent social and communication challenges in ASD.”

Jubenville is now interviewing families to find out what some parents have learned about connecting with their autistic children, with a goal of sharing the information with those families still struggling to make physical and mental connections.

“I hope that this research will highlight the unique ways in which parents navigate relationships with their child who is diagnosed with an ASD and that it will uncover strategies parents have learned to enhance this relationship which can be turned into interventions for parents wanting to develop a stronger connection with their child.

“Research is most valuable when it is shared, which is why I intend on giving this research back to the ASD population. I’ll share what I learn with various autism agencies in the city, and I plan to publish this work for both professionals and the general public.

Jubenville is looking for parents willing to take part in a 90-minute interview with her. The children, who must have an official diagnosis of autism, must be older than three and can range into young adulthood, as long as they are still living in the home. The children will not be part of the interview.

Parents interested in taking part in Jubenville’s research can contact her directly at


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