4-H team researching equity for youth with autism

Bruce Schultz  |  5/6/2019 1:41:40 PM

(05/06/19) LAFAYETTE, La. — A 4-H agent in Lafayette and a Sabine Parish 4-H Club member selected to attend a national conference in April will be studying how 4-H recreation programs can become more inclusive for youth with autism.

The team of Cassandra Phillips and student Dekota McGee was among 20 teams chosen out of 100 from across the U.S. to participate in the True Leaders in Equity Conference held in Chevy Chase, Marlyland, in April. Each team included an adult and a youth.

They applied in February, and their application included a poster outlining the subject they wanted to study.

“The conference was an excellent way to come together with like-minded people,” Phillips said. “It was educational and quite moving to see the ideas from around the country.”

For the next year, Phillips and McGee will research youths with autism and the challenges they face, Phillips said. Their work also will include learning from parents of autistic youth about how programs can be tailored to accommodate autistic children.

From what they learn in their research, they will implement ideas to make recreational pursuits more equitable for autistic youth, Phillips said.

Their findings and the changes that are implemented will be included in monthly reports to the group that attended the conference. Other teams were tasked with finding ways to promote equity for youth of different races or sexual orientation.

“We noticed youth on the autism spectrum didn’t participate much in recreation,” Phillips said. “But we want everybody to participate.”

Equity was defined at the conference as making sure everyone is given the same opportunity, she said.

McGee will be attending the University of Louisiana at Lafayette starting in the fall, making it easier for her to work with Phillips. In the meantime, they will conduct research on their own to learn more about autism. In the fall, they will start meeting with parents and youths.

McGee will be majoring in nursing, and she said her work on the autism project will further her studies.

“Having this opportunity to work with these kids will prepare me for this career,” she said.

The conference included a wide range of topics, but McGee got the most out of a session involving

communication with individuals who hold an opposing point of view.

Former 4-H member Stanley Celestine, of Avoyelles Parish and currently a member of the Avoyelles Parish School Board, was the keynote speaker at the conference.

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Dekota McGee, a 4-H’er from Sabine Parish, left, and Cassandra Phillips, 4-H agent in Lafayette Parish, pose with a poster they made for the True Leaders in Equity Conference at Chevy Chase, Maryland, in April, 2019. They will be studying ways of making 4-H more accessible to students with autism.

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