Spotlight on…Anita Yakkundi

Category: Spotlight on Published: 26 January 2017

1) Can you tell us simply, in 3 sentences what your research is about?
My research is developing an individualised reading programme for learners (6-18years) with autism and intellectual disability using a touch screen gadget. This will use the online Headsprout® early reading programme and make adaptations to suit verbal as well as non-verbal learners. Appropriate reading assessment and behaviour analytical strategies will be used to develop an individualised curriculum.

2) Why should we be interested in this issue?
Individuals with autism spectral disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability often encounter problems with reading and comprehension. This limits their social, communication and employment prospects impacting on the quality of life of the affected individuals and their caregivers.

Due to their complex learning abilities, they are unable to acquire literacy skills using the standard reading programs. An individualised and user friendly technology is required to enable learning. Touch screen gadgets are user friendly devices for most individuals with ASD and presenting them with a reading program on such a gadget makes learning interactive and engaging. Headsprout® early reading programme is scientifically developed with built in prompts and it can therefore be adjusted to each learner’s pace.

3) What does it mean to your research career to be an ASSISTID Marie Curie Fellow?
It means everything! The ASSISTID fellowship is the best thing that has happened for my career. I made a career change from being a cancer biomedical scientist to a behaviour analyst in order to carry out research and participate in service provision in the area of Autism and intellectual disability. I was delighted to get this opportunity to be an ASSISTID Marie Curie Fellow. The scheme gives me many training and networking opportunities in this area of work. The interaction with peers and service providers, all having a range of expertise in varied areas and all working towards the common goal of developing assistive technology for autism and intellectual disability, is very enriching. I hope to be able to use this invaluable experience in not just enhancing my career but make a contribution in this field of work.

4) What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
Through this project I hope to develop an appropriate assessment as well as reading skills program that can be tailored to address the complex literacy needs of learners with ASD. I hope to further expand this pilot study to larger number of students. Acquisition of reading skills will enable social inclusion and impact of living and pre-vocational skills for these individuals.

5) What is the most frequently asked question which people ask you about your work?
Do you find this area of work challenging? More than questions, I get comments about how rewarding it is to work in this area and how worthy it is to carry out research on this aspect.

6) Tell us something which might surprise us?
I am a mother of a young person with autism and another neuro-typically developing child. They are my source of inspiration and learning. Apart from being a scientist I love ‘cooking from the box’ using ingredients that are present rather than using a planned recipe.