Challenges and Dedication: Interview with Hui Zhang on her Autism Research Path

In this rapidly changing world, the education and rehabilitation of children with autism are gaining public attention. Hui Zhang, a highly respected expert in autism research and a mother of a child with autism, is uniquely positioned in both her personal and professional life to blend scientific research with practical application. Through multidimensional family and community support programs, she brings profound insights and innovative contributions to the field.

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We’re excited to speak with Hui Zhang, an expert in autism research today. Greetings, Before we dive into the Q&A mosh-pit, could you introduce yourselves to our ever-inquisitive readers?

Hello everyone! Thank you very much for your reception. I can’t wait to dive into this interview. I am Hui Zhang. I am currently a PhD student in special education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My research focuses on family support and community support for autistic children, as well as language rehabilitation for autistic children.

Could you share the main challenges facing families with children with autism in your research, and strategies for overcoming them?

Thank you for the question. The main challenges facing families with children with autism include difficulties in service selection, school bullying, and social integration issues, which have been the focus and core issues of my research. A community-based study I conducted starting in 2021 found that parents from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds face many challenges in choosing services. Therefore, practitioners need to provide tailored support and information for their needs, including counseling based on family intervention expectations, service provider selection, and cultural understanding and counseling about disability awareness in their communities.These three main findings address the longstanding questions about which strategies can effectively support autism families in community services and what a diverse family support network should encompass, providing effective guidance and answers. Practitioners and service providers can develop an actionable process based on these results and provide culturally appropriate, effective assistance to families from different backgrounds.

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How does your research reveal the impact of social context and policy on the service choices of families of children with autism?

I believe that examining how social context shapes families’ service choices is a core issue in the field of autism, particularly in the field of parent supports and services. In the past and for a long time, the main research on autism focused on early intervention for the behavior and language of autistic children. Although these studies with clinic intervention as the core are very important, intervention on behavior and language are not It cannot fundamentally change the behavioral and language characteristics of autistic children, and therefore cannot completely alleviate the subsequent problems that arise for families, such as long-term service choices for families and the mental pressure on parents and autistic children. These seemingly more abstract issues than behavior and language are choices and dilemmas families face every day. Since we are unable to provide answers to the causes and fundamental changes of autism at this stage, our services and support cannot just focus on changing them, but should shift to providing them with community-centered solutions based on current scientific and technological conditions and policy conditions. , support services targeted at families’ actual needs. In my research, I found that social relief has a great impact on services for autistic families. For example, some families who come from communities with traditionally negative attitudes towards disability tend to choose services that are more For radical, immediately effective intervention services, parents from areas with more tolerant and accepting attitudes towards disabilities and autism are more inclined to choose psychological support and social support. This may sound like common sense, but previous research has not delved into what factors play a role in this process. My research hopes to help everyone understand the long-term cultural differences, social perceptions, and policy implementation factors that influence family service decisions in this seemingly simple but actually complex process.

Which awards have you received in autism education research, and how have these awards impacted your career?

I’ve been fortunate to receive several awards in the field of autism education. These awards include both on-campus research rewards and external research awards. For instance, in the recently passed Thomas Harlin Special Education Research Memorial Scholarship selection in 2024, I was chosen as a recipient. I felt greatly encouraged because it recognized the importance of my research findings in advancing the field of special education. Receiving this scholarship was inspiring and strengthened my commitment to making more contributions to special education. Additionally, in 2023, I received the Phillip and Helen Green Special Education Research Scholarship: the significance of this scholarship lies not only in its personal recognition but also in its acknowledgment of the societal impact of my work. This social benefit is meaningful to me because it demonstrates that my research not only remains at the academic level but also genuinely improves the actual conditions in the community.These awards have had a profound impact on my career. Firstly, they’ve boosted my confidence and motivated me to pursue excellence and innovation. Secondly, these honors have enhanced my academic reputation, providing me with a broader platform and opportunities for development in the field of special education. Most importantly, these awards inspire me to continue striving for the special education cause, advocating for more rights and opportunities for children with special needs.”

What are your views on international collaboration in the field of autism research, and what personal experiences do you have?

As a relatively new research field, international cooperation in autism research is very important. In my own research, I have extensive collaborations with scholars from many countries, including South Korea, China, the United States, and Bangladesh. Their research focuses vary, and these different perspectives bring me a lot of inspiration. For example, one collaborator specializes in the psychological effects of school bullying and cyberbullying on adolescents. In a project I collaborated with her, we combined my expertise in research on service support for autism families with her research. Together, we published a study on bullying among children with autism in schools and the main influencing factors. This study has been cited by scholars from multiple countries, indicating the importance of this research and the widespread nature of the issue. I believe that this interdisciplinary international cooperation not only enriches research perspectives but also promotes the development of the global autism education field.”

As a reviewer for the Special Education Division of the American Educational Research Association, what research directions do you consider particularly important at present?

It’s an honor to have been continuously selected as a reviewer for the Special Education Division of the American Educational Research Association for three consecutive years. After reviewing research and submissions over the years, I believe the most critical research directions in special education currently include family support and intervention, improving the school social environment, and cross-cultural education. These areas are crucial for the well-being and development of children with autism and their families and can solve real-world issues worth exploring in-depth.

Which community activities you’ve participated in have had the greatest impact on your research or teaching practice?

I’ve participated in numerous community events and seminars on autism or special education themes. I find these activities crucial for my research work. On one hand, they help me stay sensitive to real-life issues. On the other hand, by engaging with the public and sharing my research findings, I gain insights into how my research can contribute to addressing real-life problems and its limitations. I’ve always believed that the ultimate purpose of knowledge is to serve the public, and research without the opportunity to serve is a waste of time. Before entering the field of research, I often wondered about the relevance of autism studies to my life. What does this research mean for my life? I hope that now, through autism research conducted from the perspective of both a parent and a researcher, I can help answer these questions for other parents. The purpose of community activities lies in enabling the most needy individuals to access the latest research findings and directly benefit from them. This process has deepened my understanding of the urgency of autism research and its significant impact on the lives of individuals and families affected by autism.

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