Spotlight on: Michelle Turan, Coordinator Autism and Behavioural Sciences graduate certificate program
Spotlight on is a special series profiling the faculty and staff at Mohawk who are making a difference at the college and in the community.
Michelle Turan says she returned a different person following a service trip with the Global Autism Project at a school for children with autism in India while completing her PhD.
The Human Services professor is now studying how others can be transformed by learning abroad.
During her studies to earn at doctorate in education at The University of Windsor, Turan researched how parents felt about the services available to their children with autism. The trip to India in 2013 reinforced her particular interest in cultural diversity in the views on autism and treatment.
“I went as both a teacher and a student to learn about how the Indian culture views and treats autism. It was a huge benefit to me as a person, as a professor, and it directly impacted how I teach and how I see the world.”
Turan, coordinator of Mohawk’s Autism and Behavioural Sciences graduate certificate program, saw that same transformation when she took a group of Mohawk and Fanshawe College students to India through the Global Autism Project in 2014.
“They were forever changed in a globalized way. They come back more interested in politics and global issues. They are more engaged in the world.”
“I always had an interest in applied research but there were limited opportunities. There was no funding and teaching loads didn’t really allow it. It feels like there has been a shift in the College, a good shift. There is an appreciation for research and for consideration of perspective across cultures and the value that can bring to our students.”
Turan has now focused her sights on researching and measuring the effect of global service placements. She is leading another group of 10 students to India in March who are being assessed to create a baseline measure that will be compared to their thoughts and beliefs when they return.
Her hope over the long-term is to study how international experiences affect those who work as clinicians, and service providers in the field of autism.
She was awarded funding from Mohawk’s Applied Research and Innovation in Education (ARIE) fund last fall to carry out her work.
“I always had an interest in applied research but there were limited opportunities. There was no funding and teaching loads didn’t really allow it. It feels like there has been a shift in the College, a good shift. There is an appreciation for research and for consideration of perspective across cultures and the value that can bring to our students,” she said.
“This is a much more globalized institution. That only makes us better.”
Turan says children with disabilities in India are often hidden or segregated due to shame. The schools that serve those children are remarkable places, she says.
“The women working in these schools are exceptional. They are strong, driven, independent women who are amazing advocates for these kids … India is kind of where (Canada was) in the 1960s (with respect to disabilities), however, they are also ahead of us in many ways, and I’ve learned so much from them” said Turan, a Hamilton native who completed an undergraduate degree in psychology at McMaster University.
She did not set out to study autism but while in university she took a job caring for a boy with the brain development disorder. She knew nothing about it at the time but used behavioural science techniques to help teach him to communicate.
“I became so enthralled with the power of this teaching that I dedicated my life to it.”
Turan started working with a group of families advocating for increased government funding for autism services. When the province began allocating millions of dollars to provide Intensive Behavioural Intervention to children with autism in 1999, Turan took a role as a senior therapist for autism services in London.
From there, she worked as a clinical supervisor in a private practice and then as a supervising therapist for a regional autism program in Toronto.
While acting as a clinical coordinator for an autism school support program, she finished a masters’ degree through the University of Nevada at Reno.
Autism is said to affect one in 68 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control in the United States. That number is roughly 30 per cent higher than the estimate in 2009 and about 120 per cent higher than that estimated in 2002.
“There is not enough people to do the great work we could be doing.”
There is no national surveillance program in Canada but experts do believe the prevalence of autism is increasing. That has led to long wait times for services and a shortage of people working in the field.
“There is not enough people to do the great work we could be doing,” said Turan.
She came to Mohawk in 2005 while on maternity leave after the birth of her son.
She had applied to teach part-time but members of the hiring committee felt she was perfect for a full-time job heading up the college’s new Autism and Behavioural Sciences graduate certificate program.
Turan says she struggled with the decision because her son was just two months old, but she concluded Mohawk is where she was meant to be.
“I’ve never regretted that decision.”
And Mohawk is now the longest stop in her career.
“We are a really great institution. I’m very proud of where I work.”
Mohawk College educates and serves 30,000 full-time, part-time, apprenticeship and international students at three campuses and two City School locations at the Eva Rothwell Resource Centre and the Central Public Library in Hamilton, Ontario. Mohawk has ranked first among all Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area colleges in student satisfaction for seven consecutive years and first in graduate satisfaction for the past five years. Mohawk ranks 15th among all colleges in Canada for applied research activity and has been named among Canada’s greenest employers and the region’s top employers for the past three years.