For the past decade, Judi Uttal, Distinguished Toastmaster, has been working with the Orange County Asperger’s Support Group (OCASG) leveraging the Toastmasters International curriculum to assist individuals on the autism spectrum improve their public speaking and thus their quality of life. She founded a Gavel Club for young adults on the spectrum, that meets monthly. As a result, of these efforts there has been remarkable improvements in the communication skills, social skills, self-confidence, and happiness among the Toastmasters Gavel Club members. Please watch this video to see the benefits that the Toastmasters Gavel Club has had on its members.
In April 2021, Judi Uttal gave a well-received presentation to the Stanford Neurodiversity Project deconstructing the Toastmasters Gavel Club Program and its benefits to the Neurodiverse Community. Please watch this video to view Judi’s presentation. Judi’s goal has been to help other communities see the value of the Toastmasters program to individuals on the autism spectrum, and to assist them in establishing similar programs throughout the world.
On November 30, 2021, it was announced in the OAR News that Sasha Zeedyk, Ph.D (California State University, Fullerton), and Yasamin Bolourian, Ph.D. (University of California, Riverside) were awarded a grant of $40,000 by the Organization for Autism Research to “investigate the impact of a community-based public speaking program.”
“It is clear to me that the use of Toastmasters is extremely powerful in helping individuals on the spectrum,” stated Judi Uttal. “However, there has been no academic work proving that effectiveness. By using scientific methods to analyze the efficacy of this internationally available public speaking program, Dr. Zeedyk and Dr. Bolourian could help inspire similar programs to the one I have run for the last decade.”
OAR received 137 pre-proposals in the 2021 Applied Research Competition and subsequently invited 47 applicants to submit full proposals. Twenty full proposals were selected to move on to the final round. On November 4 and 5, OAR’s Scientific Council met virtually to review those proposals, recommending four studies to the Board of Directors as worthy of funding. The Board unanimously approved all four studies for funding. The study proposed by Dr. Zeedyk and Dr. Bolourian is called “Amplifying Autistic Voices: Investigating the Impact of a Community-Based Public Speaking Program”. It will include two phases:
Phase I: Will be to conduct interviews with Toastmasters participants who are on the autism spectrum, as well as their coaches, mentors, and caregivers who support their participation in the Gavel Club. Field notes from the monthly Toastmasters meetings will be collected.
Phase II: Will be to modify the curriculum based on findings of best practices found in Phase I. The adapted program will then be piloted to test the effectiveness of participation in the Toastmaster’s curriculum among young adults on the spectrum.
Judi Uttal, President of the Orange County Asperger’s Support Group as well as Founder of the OCASG Gavel Club will collaborate on this study by arranging interviews for Phase I and leading the Toastmasters Speechcraft in Phase II.