PhD candidate honored as emerging researcher in special education

Ann-Marie Orlando, a University of Florida doctoral candidate in special education, recently received the 2011 Alice H. Hayden Emerging Researcher Award from TASH, a leading international advocacy group for people with disabilities.

The annual award honors doctoral students in education and related fields who demonstrate potential leadership and ongoing commitment in teaching, scholarship and service on behalf of people with significant disabilities. TASH is based in Washington, D.C.

Since starting her doctoral studies in special education leadership in 2006, Orlando has filled many roles in UF’s special education research and teaching programs. Under the supervision of her faculty adviser Diane Ryndak, she has managed two federal grants, worth a combined $1.6 million, addressing the critical shortage of special-education teachers and leaders in the field of significant disabilities.

One grant focuses on preparing special education leaders with expertise in inclusive education and assistive technology, and another on expanding the pool of qualified university faculty to train the next generation of special-education teachers in the field of significant disabilities.

Orlando began her career as a speech language therapist, audiologist and nationally certified assistive technology specialist—a background reflected in her research interest in communication systems for students with significant disabilities. At UF, she has taught several courses on significant disabilities and communication and participated on a team of researchers analyzing literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities.

“Ann Marie could be a future national leader in the field of significant disabilities in relation to communication, emergent literacy instruction and inclusive education practices,” Ryndak says.

Orlando successfully defended her dissertation in November. Her research involved examining the effects of intervention during shared book-reading sessions on the communication of young children with significant developmental delays. She presented her research findings in early December at the 2011 TASH Conference in Atlanta. She co-chairs the early childhood committee for TASH and previously headed the group’s communication committee.

She and Ryndak are developing three doctoral-level courses in assistive technology and augmentative/alternative communication for individuals with significant disabilities, which Orlando will teach upon completion of her doctoral studies.

Orlando has worked part-time for the past eight years at UF’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, providing training and public awareness activities. She leads an inclusive social group for students with autism spectrum disorders and will continue working at CARD while teaching the new doctoral courses at UF.

Alice H. Hayden, the namesake of Orlando’s award, is one of the founding members of TASH and an international scholar in the field of significant disabilities.