OT Study Question: Teens Ready for Adulthood?


ST. LOUIS — Most teenagers clamor to be treated as adults but are they ready for adult responsibilities? A group of Maryville University researchers hopes to find a scientific answer to that question. Regardless of the answer, however, the research team, comprised of Ashlyn Cunningham, assistant professor of occupational therapy, and graduate students Tricia Stelzer, Jamie Gehrin, Krisiti Strieker and Jamie Van Dillen, already have been chosen to present their findings at the 88th annual American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) conference, to be held in April 2008 in Long Beach, Calif.

The Maryville researchers are currently in the primary test development stage of the study titled “Assessment of Adolescents Transitioning to Adulthood: Tool Development and Pilot Study Project.” The study will measure and evaluate the independent living skills adolescents need to know upon graduating from high school to enter adulthood. For example, the adolescents will be tested on principles of safety, nutrition, budgeting and even parenting skills. The adolescents will be assessed using interviews and performance-based tools, such as writing a check, or pointing out what is wrong in a photograph depicting a dangerous scene.

The study will examine 40 adolescents, all 18-year-old high school seniors from St. Louis public schools. The students will be picked at random by their school principals. Data collection for the study is taking place in November and December. Data analysis will be conducted in Spring 2008.

The idea for the study came to Cunningham last year when she was conducting another study using the Kohlman Evaluation of Living Skills. She and her student research team found the 25-year-old test to be outdated and no longer an accurate measure of modern-day living skills. Cunningham and the students decided to develop their own test, the Assessment of Adolescents Transitioning to Adulthood (AATA). She facilitated the research proposal process in June, along with four graduate students in her evidence-based practice course. The research process is part of the Maryville OT graduate curriculum and usually connects to a faculty’s lines of inquiry.

Cunningham says once completed, the study “will open up the opportunity for research on intervention. Today, many teens don’t have the parental support, opportunities or resources to succeed.” Occupational therapy can assist in identifying areas of independent living skills that need improvement and structure intervention based on these needs.

Cunningham expects the study will reveal adolescent deficiencies in “difficult” areas such as nutrition, money managing, budgeting and leisure choices. “Lots of kids are sedentary and non-productive in their free time,” she said. “They say they’re ‘hanging out,’ but what does that mean? What do you do when you ‘hang out’?”

Maryville University is a private institution offering approximately 50 undergraduate, seven master’s and two doctoral degree programs to 3,422 students. Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges, Maryville University prepares its students for successful and meaningful careers. Among Maryville’s most recent graduates, 94 percent are employed or attending graduate school. Approximately 15,000 alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.