A noteworthy accomplishment for an undergraduate student, senior Meredith Gaffney co-authored an article titled “Selecting picture books featuring characters with autism spectrum disorder: recommendations for teachers” with education professor Dr. Julia Wilkins, and her article was recently published in the International Journal of Inclusive Education.
An education major from Acworth, Ga, Gaffney chose this topic due to her own experiences in the classroom through the education department’s Practicum courses. While in the classroom, Gaffney noticed that more and more children are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), yet the children’s books being published do not reflect this trend. “It is important to have inclusive children’s books because children with autism desire to see characters they can identify within literature and because developing children can benefit from learning about the characteristics of autism so that they can better understand and welcome their classmates,” she said.
Dr. Wilkins also mentioned the necessity of their research, as she said, “Although there are articles on selecting children’s books featuring characters with disabilities, Meredith’s article is the first article to focus specifically on selecting children’s books in which main characters have ASD. Although her article is geared towards teachers, families will also benefit from the information in the article.”
Gaffney began her research on this topic in her capstone course with Dr. Wilkins, an experience that challenged her in ways she did not anticipate. She mentioned the further development of her critical thinking skills and the extended time she devoted to this project as two of these challenges, saying, “The hours of time I spent on this research and the passion I have for teaching created in me a pride in my work that made presenting and being published the ultimate rewards for my efforts.”
Dr. Wilkins had the original idea to send their article for publication. Gaffney mentioned how, throughout the process of working with her professor to write this article, Dr. Wilkins would check in on her regularly. Dr. Wilkins also facilitated communication with the International Journal of Inclusive Education, a step in the publication process “which opened a door for me that I could not have otherwise opened,” Gaffney noted. “Dr. Wilkins’ commitment to my research is just one piece of evidence of how PC professors care about students’ long-term success and how they go above and beyond to help students achieve their goals.”
Dr. Wilkins, too, appreciated Gaffney’s contribution, suggesting, “I have published articles with graduate students in the past, but this is my first experience of working with an undergraduate student on a publication. In fact, such an accomplishment is extremely rare for an undergraduate student, so I think it reflects the type of candidates we are able to attract in the education department. We want our students to be adventurous and successful, competitive and compassionate. We work as a community, inspiring our students to learn and to make the world a better place. Hopefully, incoming students will be drawn to the opportunities available to them in our department.”
Gaffney certainly epitomizes PC’s tagline “Be Inspired for Life” in her lifelong commitment to learning. “I am still coming to terms with the fact that an international journal is publishing the work that I co-created as an undergraduate student. This accomplishment means that I have so many more opportunities ahead of me and I look forward to furthering my education by attending graduate school in the future.”
Written by Erika Gotfredson, a senior English major from Duluth, Ga.