Sociology student and McNair Scholar Jennifer Duenas' study into the ways in which parents advocate for their children on the autism spectrum, is both scientific and personal. Drawing on her own experience raising two young sons with autism, Duenas conducted in-depth interviews with parents from different backgrounds and socioeconomic classes to determine how they work with the public school system to advocate for their children.

Duenas’ research aims to explain how the experience of children and parents following a diagnosis of autism is shaped by institutional arrangements and requirements, as well as available resources. While autism awareness has increased, anticipated outcomes from this research would include potentially novel solutions and strategies for parents of autistic children and their educators.

“The project has provided an opportunity to better identify the challenges parents face as they advocate for their children, the educational challenges autistic students face, and why these challenges exist in the first place,” says Duenas. “Working on this project has helped me develop my own advocacy skills as I navigate the public school special education system for my own two autistic boys.”

The project has become a starting point for Duenas’ doctoral studies in sociology at the University of Kansas.