Psychology Graduate Student Receives 2021 Autism Scholar's Award for Needle Pain Research

Posted on Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

father holds crying young boy as female doctor gives him a needle

Just the thought of getting a needle fills some people with fear and anxiety – even a life-saving needle such as the COVID-19 vaccine. However, most would agree that the benefits far outweigh any momentary discomfort.

But for those with autism there are added challenges.

Olivia Dobson headshot

“Children with Autism tend to have greater difficulty undergoing needle procedures due to their special needs, including difficulties with communication, unfamiliar experiences, and sensory perception,” said Olivia Dobson a graduate student in the Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology program at the University of Guelph who is currently researching needle pain management strategies in relation to children with autism.

There are currently no autism-specific guidelines to help medical staff address the needs and fears of those with autism. Dobson and her graduate studies supervisor Dr. Meghan McMurtry hope that their research will change that.

“This research will identify the modifications and additions needed for existing clinical practices to be appropriately assist children with Autism,” said Dobson. “Then in my PhD, I plan to use this information to develop and implement an informative resource about needle pain and fear that intends to meet the needs of the Autism population.”

Dobson has been working with children with autism and their families for more than six years in various volunteer, research and professional roles. Her graduate research work was recently recognized by the Council of Ontario Universities. She was the recipient of the 2021 Autism Scholars Awards for a master’s-level research, an $18,000 prize for her “leading-edge scholarship into autism.”

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