In a preschool classroom, a teacher snaps a photo of a young girl stacking colorful wooden blocks, her face focused in concentration. Then another of a little boy fingerpainting, mixing red and blue to make purple.
The children have autism spectrum disorder, and the photos, texted or emailed to parents throughout the day, are much more than memories to be filed away — they’re part of a study run by Ariane Gauvreau, a 2015 Ph.D. graduate of the University of Washington’s College of Education. With the goal of improving communication, parents use the photos as visual aids to guide nightly conversations with their children. And the initial results of the study are impressive.
“After working with these visual supports for a couple of months, the kids were able to add in detail and have higher quality conversations with their parents, even without the support of the photos,” says Gauvreau.
Finding innovative ways to improve communication and overall development for children with disabilities — and give their parents the tools and support they need — is a thread that has long run through Gauvreau’s work at the UW. For over a decade, she was deeply involved in the UW’s Haring Center for Research and Training in Inclusive Education, where she connected educational theory with tangible, hands-on experience working with young children.
The Haring Center’s Experimental Education Unit (EEU) was where Gauvreau began to see, as an undergraduate classroom aide, how she could make a difference, from testing new theories to working with children every day. “The teachers there were innovative and creative, and they changed the way I thought about what I could do as an educator,” she says.
Years later, she became the head teacher of the EEU’s Project DATA (Developmentally Appropriate Treatment for Autism), a program that combines a focus on individualized instruction with an integrated classroom experience. “It is a really lovely combination of the two,” says Gauvreau. “Kids get the individualized instruction they really need to be successful, but they also get to attend preschool every day with their friends who don’t have disabilities.”
Today, Gauvreau remains focused on teaching and research at the UW. As the lead coach for the College of Education’s Special Education graduate program, she’s helping prepare pre-service special education teachers for their future classrooms. “I love helping shape their beliefs and philosophies in the way that my teachers and mentors here at the UW have shaped mine,” she says.
And, through ongoing research into tools that both help children learn and empower their families, Gauvreau hopes to continue adding more options to the educational landscape. She draws inspiration from the children and families she serves, but also from her peers.
“The bar is set high at the UW, and I’m constantly challenged,” she says. “Everyone in the College of Education is working really hard to change the lives of kids and families. It’s a great working environment to be in, because everyone is so passionate and focused on the end goal.”
The Haring Center for Research and Training in Inclusive Education
The Haring Center at the UW houses three units: the Experimental Education Unit (EEU), which has served children with developmental disabilities and their families for over 40 years; the Professional Development Unit, which helps develop the next generation of special education professionals through hands-on experience; and the Applied Research Unit, home to research projects that aim to improve learning and curriculum for children with special needs.
The Haring Center was named after Professor Norris Haring, a pioneer in special education whose influence reaches across the country. He served as the first director of the EEU, and though he’s now retired, his legacy continues to have a positive impact on the lives of families and young children — and the educators of the future.
Norris and his wife, Dorothy, established the Dorothy and Norris Haring Endowed Fellowship, and it’s fitting that Gauvreau received it as a Ph.D. student.
“Having that funding enabled me to do this study exploring photos and parent communication,” says Gauvreau. “And, with Norris’ impact on the field of special education, it was an honor to have a fellowship with his name.”
In addition to holding three degrees from the UW, Gauvreau has deep experience working in special education at the University.
- Ph.D., Education, ’15
- M.Ed., Special Education, ’08
- B.A., Psychology, ’05
- Teaching Associate and Lead Coach, UW College of Education, Aug. 2015–Present
- Assessment Coordinator and Team Leader, UW College of Education, 2011–Present
- Practicum Supervisor, UW College of Education, 2011–15
- Instructor, UW College of Education 2011–15
- Project DATA Head Teacher, Haring Center, 2007–11
- Classroom Aide, Haring Center, 2002–07
This story originally appeared on the University of Washington homepage and can be viewed on UW's series of Boundless stories.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications