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Dr Anita Yakkundi: Incoming Fellow

Project Title: iCanRead; an inclusive program for Comprehension and Reading

Host Institution: University College Dublin (UCD)

Host PI: Professor Lizbeth Goodman, Inclusive Design Research Centre & SmartLab

Home Institution: Queens University Belfast

Email: anita.yakkundi@ucd.ie

The ability to read influences not only the academic success but impacts on social communication, employment prospects and quality of life. However students with learning difficulties acquire limited reading skills by the end of their school education.  Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) oftentimes are skilled at decoding but need help with comprehension. Use of written text might offer a more permanent and visual of expression for these individuals who struggle with verbal and social instructions. Given the wide range of strengths and challenges experienced by individuals with ASD, it is necessary to provide individualised intervention. iCanRead proposes to use the ABA-based, computer reading system; MimioSprout early reading and comprehension program, with a cohort of ASD individuals with co-occurring intellectual disability (ID). The innovativeness of iCanRead lies in its application for ASD individuals with significant complexity and ID, offering individualised adaptations and behaviour technology to facilitate the learning and use of this software. Adaptations to MimioSprout for individuals with greater challenges such as interactive touch screen, eye and brain control and biofeedback measures of success will be developed in conjunction with scientists at SMARTlab, UCD. Consultation with Centre for Behaviour Analysis, QUB will be sought for learning task associated and other challenging behaviour (if emerge). Acquisition of literacy skills can have longterm impacts on participants’ quality of life offering them a means of communication, and independence in instructions decoding that can feed into daily living and emergence of prevocational skills.

Dr Anita Yakkundi Bio

Anita obtained her PhD in life sciences in 1996 at the M.S University, Vadodara, India and has vast experience in scientific and preclinical cancer studies through her research work at the Indian Institute of Sciences and National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India and more extensively at Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB). Through her work at QUB, she has made a major research contribution for development of a cancer therapeutic which is now in clinical trials in cancer patients.

Career transition:

For the last 12 years, following her daughter’s diagnosis of autism, Anita has acquired parallel experience and training in autism intervention and applied behaviour analysis. She made a career switch to pursue research in Autism intervention and completed MSc Applied Behaviour Analysis in 2015 from QUB. Anita is a steering committee member of Queen’s University, Autism Research Intervention, Centre for Behaviour Analysis.

Her research objectives are to provide academic and pre-vocational skills to individuals with autism and learning disability using evidence based interventions. She would like to focus on use of individualised, assistive technology and applying behaviour analysis in order to promote independent living.