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Kelsey Haines ’13 researches new methods of teaching students with autism

Working with students with autism appealed to Kelsey Haines ’13 the first time she volunteered to work with special needs children.

“It’s always been something I loved,” Haines says.

When Haines, a special education/elementary education major, had the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research, it made sense to focus her studies on children with autism.

She spent three months working with two students with autism at a Piedmont elementary school. Haines shared her research, “Teaching Single Digit Addition to Students with Autism: A Kinesthetic Intervention,” at Elon's Spring Undergraduate Research Forum.

A misconception about children with autism fueled her research choice. Some people assume children with autism are mathematics savants, she said. Often, that is not the case.

 “There’s a portion of students with autism—especially moderate to lower-functioning students—who struggle with math,” Haines says. “And there’s not a lot of research out there to help them.”

Haines used kinesthetics, which she defined as “moving one’s whole body through space,” to help the students with math. She created a special carpet for the two elementary-aged children she worked with that had two footprints at its base. Blocks numbered one to 10 extended from the footprints. The blocks got continually larger as the numbers ascended.

Students started by standing on the footprints. If the problem was two plus six, the students would jump forward two times and then count aloud one through six until they were standing on the eight. The students who used the carpet showed improvement in their math skills, Haines says.

The results weren’t identical for each student, but they were significant enough for her to feel she made a difference.

“That’s why we teach,” she says. “That’s why I want to do this – to help them grow as people and students. To be able to do that through teaching and research has been awesome.”