CWRU doctoral student to study autism in Italy with Fulbright

Anthropology doctoral student M. Ariel Cascio is Case Western Reserve’s only graduate student to win a Fulbright Scholarship so far this year.

She plans to use the funding to spend nine months in northern Italy conducting dissertation research on how Italians view, use services and care for adolescents with autism spectrum disorders.

Cascio was one of three Case Western Reserve graduate students who made it through the first round of selection by the Fulbright’s national screening group, and she emerged as the first to receive the scholarship this year. The Fulbright organization has not completed awarding all of its grants for 2012.

“Ariel is one of the brightest students I have had the pleasure of working with over the years,” said Atwood Gaines, Cascio’s doctoral adviser and professor of anthropology. He also praised her visual memory, saying it will be an asset to her research efforts.

Gaines said he encouraged Cascio to do her work on autism in Italy to give her “a better comparative basis for anthropological critiques of U.S. notions” about autism.

“Her research results, when disseminated, will doubtless affect debates and policy discussions in the U.S.,” Gaines said.

Cascio is the fourth of Gaines’ doctoral students to win a Fulbright.

Cascio said her research will examine how different organizations within northern Italy address the disorder among adolescents. Her ultimate goal is to contribute to the global understanding of how autism care and perceptions differ across the globe.

“Medical anthropologists have shown how the management of diseases and medical conditions can vary from country to country,” she said. “I’m motivated to see how autism is experienced, defined and managed differently in Italy.”

Cascio first launched her research in Italy last year with the assistance of an Eva L. Pancoast Award for graduate students that she received from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS).

The Pancoast Award enables women to extend their studies or travel in a foreign country in the first year after their graduation from CAS or while enrolled in graduate studies. Established in 1985, the program awards grants of up to $3,500 for women to pursue their interests. Cascio, who received her master’s degree in anthropology in 2011, was eligible and spent two months last summer in Milan, Italy, preparing for her field research.

She met individuals in social service organizations that work with adolescents with autism spectrum disorders in preparation for her yearlong research project.

Cascio will explore how people treat this disorder from the societal, medical and religious perspectives. Through participant observations, she will record how organizations work with adolescents who fall within the autism spectrum.

Cascio plans to focus on services in northern Italy, where more resources are available for individuals with autism. She expects to select a total of six organizations that provide treatment for autism in one of three ways: day centers, residential homes or social activities that are recreational or social in nature but take place periodically.

As she conducts her research, Milan will be her home base, where she also will be associated with the University of Milan at Bicocca. Before reaching Milan, Cascio will have Fulbright training in Rome to help her acclimate to Italy.

Her Fulbright Scholarship will support her living and travel expenses from October 10 to July 10, 2013.