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Carolien Rieffe starts LDE research on autism in students

The Leiden University psychologist Carolien Rieffe will investigate how to create an social climate at high schools, to make young people with autism feel more comfortable and able to engage with their social surroundings and thus develop essential social and emotional skills. Rieffe and collaborators have been awarded a 500,000 euro grant by the Dutch Research Council NWO to fund this research project, which is a collaboration of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus (LDE) community.

From a very young age, children and adolescents with communication difficulties, such as autism, a hearing loss, or a language disorder, have – although for different reasons - less access to their social environment than their peers. They do not get the same opportunities to observe, imitate or practice social and emotional skills, which directly affects their social and emotional development. In the current project, developmental psychologist Rieffe will be studying how to enhance social access and participation for the adolescents with autism.

Optimal opportunities for social learning

Rieffe: “I think it is important to increase the access to daily social interactions, so these young people can have better opportunities for social learning. Knowing how to behave in a group with peers, how to negotiate, how to have an argument and make up again; these kind of social skills and knowledge are acquired through interactions with peers, not with therapists. Children need to have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from those. In Dutch we say: to fall and get on your feet again.”

In the hallways and on the school yard

As part of the current project, developmental psychologist Rieffe will first create an overview of the social participation of high school students with autism. 'Watch these reality shows on television with high school freshmen, they nicely show that it’s not the classroom that is important, but the free time spent in the hallways and on the school yard. That’s where ‘it happens’. Those are the places where high school students talk about their crushes, their friendship problems, their difficulties with a teacher. Yet, how do high school students with autism experience these situations? Where are they, to what extent to they participate, or want to participate?' As well as the social climate, the physical climate or ‘built environment’ can also determine how high school students socialize and interact.

Leiden-Delft-Erasmus and Groningen

Clinical psychologist Els Blijd (Inter-PSY Groningen), architect Alexander Koutamanis (Delft University) and Joost Kok, Computer Science, Leiden University) will contribute and collaborate on this project, for example by developing the systems used to collect sensor data on the school yard.

Breaking the cycle: an inclusive school environment outside the classroom for adolescents with ASD

Prof. dr. C.J. Rieffe (Leiden University)
NWO - Four research projects have started into the successful social (re)integration of young people with autism and psychosis

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