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Autism Speaks chapter president prepares to present research on opportunities for students with autism

Members from the Autism Speaks U chapter on Liberty’s campus during their Thanksgiving celebration this fall

Liberty University senior Audrey Lambert, president of the university’s Autism Speaks U chapter, will be traveling to Orlando, Fla., in January to present research at the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) 2022 Convention and Expo. The research that she and her fellow club leadership members and her team have compiled pertains to fostering self-advocacy and shared leadership opportunities on campus for students with autism.

The trip is being funded by Liberty’s Center for Research & Scholarship. The convention joins thousands of special education professionals from around the world.

“Our research is about the benefits of self-advocacy groups for students with autism on college campuses,” Lambert said. “We’re using our group as a model to encourage the creation and development of other similar groups on campus.”

Lambert said that the club’s research and surveys resulted in intriguing findings.

“Students who were not on the spectrum often commented on how their perspective had been broadened and that they felt better prepared to have conversations about autism,” she said. “Students who were on the spectrum often mentioned that they had learned more about themselves and their condition and that they had made friends, some of them for the first time.”

Lambert, who herself is on the autism spectrum, grew up in Northern Virginia and enrolled at Liberty in 2018 to study film scoring in the School of Music. While looking for a Christian Service (CSER) opportunity that same year, she came across Autism Speaks U.

Audrey Lambert

“I’m on the spectrum myself, and I figured that maybe this could be an interesting opportunity to learn about myself and learn about other people who have autism,” she said.

Liberty’s chapter started in 2014 and primarily focused on educating students on how to relate to those on the spectrum during its early years. But around the time Lambert joined, club members noticed that more students who were on the spectrum began attending so they chose to adjust their focus.

“As more and more people on the spectrum began showing up to our meetings, we sort of reformatted the club into a self-advocacy group,” Lambert said. “Now we have people who are on the spectrum and those who are not on the spectrum. We discuss autism-related things, we do advocacy around campus, and we have a lot of fun, get-to-know-you type of events. It’s really a lot of fun.”

Lambert said that it was after seeing the success of their events, such as holiday parties, bowling nights, and autism educational and awareness gatherings that the club leaders decided to conduct research consisting of the events success and high attendance numbers that they could present at a conference.

Lambert became president of the club in 2020. She expressed her gratitude for how impactful her Liberty community has been on her life.

“Definitely the atmosphere of community has been an important part to me,” Lambert said. “It’s also been an opportunity to stretch myself. I’ve been learning a lot of things and participating in activities I never thought I’d participate in.”

“Being surrounded by a community that believes the same things that you do is definitely encouraging and helps you to grow in your faith and in your knowledge of the faith,” she added.

As Lambert prepares to share her discoveries on the how beneficial consistent community can be for those with autism next month, she remains thankful for what Liberty’s chapter has meant to her and so many others.

“I think the most important thing for those with autism is that they find a really great community,” Lambert said. “I meet people in our chapter all the time that say they didn’t have many friends until they joined this group. I think that’s common because it can be very difficult for those on the spectrum to make friends. So to hear that from some of them is really special.”