Olga Solomon is an interdisciplinary researcher committed to the goals of occupational science to explore the mutually constitutive relation of human activity, experience and meaning. An applied linguist with a background in clinical psychology and linguistic anthropology, she is interested in human engagement and participation in everyday activities and ways in which these activities intersect with both personal experience and family life. Her research examines the socio-cultural, psycho-social and structural phenomena that supports everyday engagement and participation with an eye for mediating potential of social practices, innovations and technologies. Dr. Solomon also hold an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, which augments her interdisciplinary research related to the use of technology for social and therapeutic purposes. Because she came to the United States from Russia in her young adulthood, her immigrant experience shaped her research interests in how meaning is communicated and shared across difference, whether due to neurological conditions such as autism, socio-cultural or socio-economic factors and even across species such as in human-animal social interaction.
Her ethnographic research has been dedicated to micro-video analysis of social interaction as a way of looking beyond language, to systematically examine how children with autism engage in meaningful activities with their family members, therapists, teachers, and peers in daily life. The abiding interest of her research is in how children with autism co-construct meaning and social relationships with others employing socio-communicative resources that are available to them and their communicative partners in their shared social environment. Because these processes often take place in the context of narrative discourse, narrative analysis figures centrally in her work. She uses a multi-method approach to examine narrative both as a text and as a social interaction, focusing on how communicative bodies in cultural space use a range of semiotic resources (speech, literacy-based artifacts, objects, equipment, therapy animals, etc.) to engage in shared actions, activities, and meaning-making that shape human life. The most important finding of her research so far has been in demonstrating the remarkable communicative abilities that severely impacted children with autism are able to display once their social environment is organized and adapted in ways that supports their communicative potentialities. Fundamental changes in educational and therapeutic practice, however, are necessary to create and maintain adaptations for the children’s success in the socio-communicative sphere.
Research Interests: Dr. Solomon is an applied linguist by training, and her research offers an ethnographically informed perspective on the everyday lives of children and teens with autism and their families. She is a part of an interdisciplinary research team on an NIH-funded longitudinal ethnographic research project that involves African-American children with special health care needs, their families and the practitioners who serve them. She is a recipient of a USC Zumberge Individual Faculty Innovation Award for her project “Animal Assisted Therapy as Socially Assistive Technology: Implications for Autism”. Her areas of interest include: translational research on health disparities and family life; family perspectives on developmental disability and chronic illness; autism and diversity; organization and design of educational environments and family innovation; and autism, innovative technology and animal assisted therapy. She has held National Academy of Education Postdoctoral Fellowship for a study of communicative practices of children with severe autism and was Director of the Ethnography of Autism Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. Since 2003 she has served as a advisory board member for the Innovative Technology for Autism Initiative (ITA) of Cure Autism Now and Autism Speaks foundations. She was the Co-Editor, with linguistic anthropologist Elinor Ochs, of a Special Issue on autism in the journal Discourse Studies (2004). Dr. Solomon has also been a contributor on Autism, Savant Ability and Williams Syndrome for the Encyclopedia of Giftedness, Creativity and Talent (Barbara Kerr, ed.) published by SAGE in 2009.