William Smith senior Lindsey Hagan has made the most of an opportunity to help children with disabilities in China and their families. Over the past two years, she has worked with Associate Professor of Education Helen McCabe in creating autism training videos that have been viewed by thousands of teachers and families in China. While her work began on campus, she has since traveled to China on two separate occasions to develop more DVD content for The Five Project, cofounded by McCabe and her sister.
Hagan first learned of McCabe’s research in the fall of 2009, when she took McCabe’s Understanding Autism course. “In doing so, I found out about her work and research to help families, educators and individuals with Autism in China,” Hagan explains.
A psychology major with minors in education and child advocacy, she saw an open door in a field she knew she was interested in, and she jumped at the opportunity to be a part of something that could potentially make a difference.
“I absolutely recommend that other students take what they are learning in the classroom and seek opportunities to experience it in the real world. I encourage every student to look for ways in which they can enrich their education, themselves, and hopefully the lives of others by taking lessons from the classroom into the world. “
Hagan has been an active member of many academic outreach programs at HWS, including America Reads, HWS Leads, and Civic Leaders of Literacy. With so much of her focus on civic engagement closer to home, The Five Project presented a unique opportunity to make a difference.
“I learned about their work and the lack of government or other organized services for providing quality, evidence based information to these families,” she explains. “Families who are faced with a diagnosis of autism for their children often feel an immense sense of fear and confusion about how to help them, and there is a serious lack of accessible services in China. Unlike the United States, where all children are guaranteed an education by law, China often denies individuals with disabilities an education. As a result, caring for and educating a person with autism falls solely to the responsibility of the family. Once I was made aware of the need of individuals and families affected by autism in China, I had a strong desire to help in any way that I could.”
This past summer, Hagan spent three weeks in Nanjing with the team conducting a teaching program for instructors at an organization that serves young children with autism. Hagan filmed while the rest of the team observed and commented on the teachers’ methods and gave lectures.
This past January, she returned with members of The Five Project to China to help conduct a similar teacher training in Anshan. In addition to filming, Hagan kept track of pre and post data collected from surveys of training participants which showed significant increases in knowledge and understand of autism and best practices for teacher individuals with autism.
“After editing the first informational DVD, the feedback we received was outstanding. Within a few months the video had been viewed thousands of times on the Chinese version of ‘YouTube’ and the demand for more information from us was huge.”
There is no doubt in Hagan’s mind that what she is doing is making a difference and she emphasizes how rewarding her experience has been: “What I have learned and gained the most from this experience is the notion that I have the power to make a difference. I have gained confidence and a greater understanding of what it means to truly make a difference, and how this can be done by anyone.”