A Conversation with Dr. Helen McCabe

By | April 25, 2023

Helen McCabeDr. Helen McCabe, an associate professor in the Education Department at Daemen University, served as the keynote speaker for the third annual Diversity & Equity Summit on Saturday, April 22.

We spoke to Dr. McCabe to get to know more about her and the work she does here at Daemen and on the international level to prepare teachers for the classroom.

As an associate professor of education at Daemen, what is your focus area?

I teach classes in special education and early childhood education. My own research and work has focused on autism, and so I often am able to teach about that in my classes. My research focus area is also on education for children with autism in China.

The teaching profession has seen so many changes over the last decade. How is Daemen preparing students for the classroom?

We are following state regulations and changes and making sure that our students know about all of their options. For example, we encourage students to get a dual certification in general and special education whenever possible. We encourage students to extend their certification down or up (to more grade levels). This year we have instituted a new field experience system, which has been a wonderful way for students to really become part of a classroom early in their time in the program starting in their sophomore year.

You are passionate about education and support for children with autism and their families in the United States and China. How did you become interested in autism in China?

I majored in East Asian Studies and Chinese when I was in college, and I was all set to go to China when I graduated. Then in my senior year I volunteered with Special Olympics and I loved it! So when I went to China, I asked around and found a volunteer opportunity with a child with autism. I first learned about autism from her, her family, and the doctor who diagnosed her. When I came back to the US after a year in China, I realized that I still wanted to study about China, but also wanted to become a special educator. So I did both!

It led you to co-found the Five Project for International Autism and Disability Support (FIVE). What is FIVE?

So continuing from the above question, I decided to get my Ph.D. in both International and Comparative Education (focus on China) and in Special Education. During my graduate work and after, I received lots of requests to provide training to teachers and families in China. In order to better meet those needs, I co-founded The Five Project for International Autism and Disability Support. FIVE is a non-profit whose goal is to support families and teachers in China, through capacity building, training, and resources. We now mainly provide support online due to Covid, and the training and materials are for Chinese speaking families in the U.S. also. All of our work is conducted in Mandarin Chinese, which I have been studying and speaking for 30+ years! The name FIVE was chosen in honor of the little girl with autism who I met in China when I graduated from college. I have stayed close with her and her family, and her favorite thing is the number 5!