Aquatic Exercise & Academic Response in Children with ASD: Erin Ross ’17

Dr. George (left) and Erin Ross

Dr. George (left) and Erin Ross

This summer, chemistry major Erin Ross ’17 of Warrington, Pennsylvania, won’t be spending much time lounging by the pool; rather, as a Summer Scholar, she has devoted herself to conducting research by the pool.

In partnership with the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support,  Erin will study the effects of aquatic exercise on stereotypic behaviors (rapid, repetitive movement) and the academic response of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) ages three-to-seven years .

During the course of Camp Kinney, the Center’s summer program, Erin is examining the academic and social responses of children as they participate in camp and classroom tasks before and after swimming. Some days, the children will be in a “no/low exercise” condition, and other days, the children will be in the exercise condition, expending more energy while swimming in the O’Pake Recreation Center Pool.

This project is timely because little is known about the effects of aquatic exercise on sterotypy and correct responding in children with ASD. Erin’s goal is that the research findings be used by families and teachers to minimize stereotypic behaviors in these children.

“I hope [this work] makes a positive impact for children with ASD,” Erin says, adding that her research project is different from anything she has done before.

“Because I’m a chemistry major, I spend a lot of time working in the lab. My Summer Scholar project is exposing me to another side of research that I’m learning how to conduct with people,” she says.

Erin predicts her Summer Scholars Program (SSP) experience will help prepare her for a career in medicine as a developmental pediatrician working with children on the Autism spectrum.

Cheryl George, Ph.D., assistant professor of special education and Erin’s SSP mentor, has over 10 years of experience in researching the effects of aerobic exercise in children with ASD. Her mission to improve behavior and academic performance in children with disabilities and discover applicable solutions for teachers and families to apply in support of those children meshes perfectly with Erin’s interests.

“When I interviewed Erin, I felt she would be the ideal candidate to mentor,” says Dr. George. “Because she’s been trained and worked as a Kinney SCHOLAR, and because she had previous experience conducting research, she possessed the background knowledge necessary to be successful with this summer project. I am thoroughly enjoying mentoring Erin and working alongside her, and I’m grateful that SJU has provided this opportunity.”

Dr. George and Erin are in the process of drafting a manuscript of the project to submit for publication, and they have already submitted two proposals to present their research outcomes: at PACEC, a Pennsylvania statewide special education convention, and at an international conference in Florida that is hosted by the Division for Autism and Developmental Disability, a subdivision of the Council for Exceptional Children.

In addition to working as a Kinney SCHOLAR during the academic year, Erin is a weekly service volunteer and a member of the Molloy Chemical Society, as well as the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority.

— Elizabeth Krotulis ’17

Office of University Communications


Summer Scholars Project Title: The Impact of Aquatic Exercise on Academic Responding and Stereotypical Behavior of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Mentor: Cheryl L. George, Ph.D., assistant professor of special education

High School: Central Bucks High School South, Warrington, Pennsylvania

Follow @sjuartssciences @haubschool on Twitter to learn about this year’s summer scholars. #SJUSSP