Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Autism Awareness & Acceptance Month

April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, a month dedicated to promoting true inclusion of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and supporting them in reaching their full potential. In honor of this, we reached out to researchers aiming to improve outcomes for learners with ASD through Early Career Development and Mentoring grants from the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER). We asked these principal investigators how they got involved in ASD research and about their current NCSER-funded work. Below is what they had to say.

Stephanie Shire, University of Oregon

I first interacted with young children with ASD as a teenage volunteer in a hospital playroom. As I learned more about children with special needs through summer camps and as an in-home aide, I grew more intrigued by the range of strengths and needs of these children. I found joy in finding ways to connect with children who had few or no words, but I lacked the tools to support their growth. This set me on a path to learn about the range of intervention practices and intervention science under the mentorship of Dr. Connie Kasari at the University of California, Los Angeles. My overall goal is to develop and test intervention programs to support the deployment of high-quality practices across the United States and abroad.

In the spirit of this goal, the purpose of my Early Career project, LIFT (Leveraging autism Intervention for Families through Telehealth), is to develop a technology-enabled version of an evidence-based, caregiver-mediated social communication intervention (JASPER; Joint Attention, Symbolic Play, Engagement, and Regulation) to be delivered by community-based early educators serving families of young children with ASD in rural areas. We are currently in Year 1 of our 4-year project. This development year is focused on the creation of the online JASPER intervention and training materials for early intervention and early childhood special education providers. Despite the demands of the pandemic, participating providers have engaged in training using video and role play and the majority are now able to put their skills to use with young children with ASD. We are currently conducting user testing of the online materials and preparing for next year’s randomized controlled trial.

Veronica Fleury, Florida State University

My first experience working with individuals with ASD was in a college course on behavior modification. The professor directed an ASD clinic that provided therapy using many of the strategies we discussed in class. I completed an internship in the clinic and was intrigued by the application of research techniques to promote prosocial behaviors for children with ASD. After college, I secured a full-time research assistantship at the University of Washington in a large ASD study focused on genetics and neurobiology. This was a pivotal experience because I realized this was not the kind of research that I wanted to pursue. The results of these efforts, while extremely valuable, did little to directly improve the lives of the participants. I realized that I wanted to be involved in applied research that allows for quicker uptake by practitioners and benefits for individuals with ASD. In order to be a good applied researcher, I needed practical experience working with children with ASD and their families. Although my entry into preschool special education teaching was initially a means to an end, it drew me in and further fueled my desire to serve children with disabilities. After this experience, I continued my graduate education and am now in an academic position that allows me to use science to address socially significant problems faced by individuals with ASD and their families.

The goal of Project START (Students and Teachers Actively Reading Together), which is part of my Early Career project, is to develop an adaptive shared reading intervention for preschool children with ASD using a sequential, multiple assignment, randomized trial (SMART) design. The results will help determine whether a full-scale efficacy study is worth pursuing for the intervention in its current form or whether additional refinement and testing is necessary.

Melanie Pellecchia, University of Pennsylvania

I became interested in research focused on improving implementation of evidence-based treatments for young children with ASD in under-resourced communities after many years of working with young children with ASD as a behavior analyst overseeing publicly funded early intervention programs. While working within a large, urban public-service system, I observed the widespread disparities in access to high-quality intervention and challenges with implementing evidence-based interventions to scale for young children with ASD. I sought to pursue an academic research career focused on improving these implementation challenges.

As part of my Early Career project, I am iteratively developing a toolkit of implementation strategies designed to improve parent coaching for young children with ASD in Part C early intervention systems. I am currently in my third year of this project and am incorporating information learned from a variety of sources to develop the toolkit, including direct observations of early intervention sessions, qualitative interviews identifying barriers and facilitators to using parent coaching within early intervention, literature on best practices in parent coaching and parent-mediated interventions for young children with ASD, and feedback from expert and community advisory panels. The toolkit will include a series of infographics, videos, and a community of practice housed within an online platform. This year I plan to conduct a pilot study of the toolkit to assess its feasibility and promise for improving the use of parent coaching for young children with ASD in Part C service systems.

Marisa Fisher, Michigan State University

Most people assume I got into the field because I grew up with an older brother with Williams Syndrome. But I didn't really think of myself as a sibling of a person with a disability and how that experience had shaped my life until I was in graduate school. The real reason I entered the field was because of three little boys with ASD with whom I worked as a behavior therapist when I was in college. What was originally a job became a passion for supporting people with ASD and other disabilities and finding better ways to teach skills and improve outcomes. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, and it was my experience with these boys and my work at an ASD research lab that pushed me to pursue a doctorate in special education so that I could continue to work with people with disabilities.

Through my work with individuals with ASD, I began to realize the social struggles they and my brother experienced and became interested in studying experiences of social victimization and finding out why people with disabilities are more socially vulnerable than individuals without disabilities. The goal of my Early Career project is to do just that. A key part of this project involves assessing students’ self-reported bullying experiences. Although my original plan was to adapt and expand on existing measures, this didn’t result in a feasible assessment. Therefore, I turned my attention toward developing and testing an assessment that was appropriate for students with ASD and plan to use it to better understand the risk factors and consequences of bullying for these students. In general, my research is evolving from identifying and describing the risk factors to developing interventions to address those risk factors and reduce experiences of social victimization. My approach is to teach individuals with ASD to recognize and respond to situations and to evaluate ways to change attitudes toward individuals with ASD and improve social inclusion.

This blog was written by Alice Bravo, virtual intern for IES and doctoral candidate in special education at the University of Washington, and Katie Taylor, program officer for NCSER’s Early Career Development and Mentoring program.

Celebrating the Week of the Young Child®

The Week of the Young Child® is an annual celebration by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It highlights the needs of young children and their families and recognizes the early childhood educators and programs who serve them. The National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) funds research focused on improving intervention services for young children with or at risk for disabilities by building provider and family capacity. Below is a sample of current projects focused on a range of supports for educators, providers, and families with the aim of improving outcomes for young children.

Supporting Early Interventionists to Build Family Capacity for Toddlers with Autism

At Indiana University and Georgia State University, Drs. Hannah Schertz and Kathleen Baggett are developing and testing a framework, Supporting Early Interventionists of Toddlers with Autism to Build Family Capacity, designed to work within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part C early intervention system. This framework serves as a mediated intervention process in which the early intervention providers work directly with caregivers (such as parents), who then work directly with their own children. More specifically, it is intended to help providers support caregivers in delivering social communication interventions to toddlers with or at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), focusing on the identified area of need for each child. The framework works within existing service delivery systems to enhance family capacity and integrate interventions into natural environments for toddlers with ASD. The investigators are currently conducting a pilot study to determine the promise of efficacy of the framework on provider practices with caregivers, caregiver practices with their toddlers, and toddler social-communication skills.

Tools for Families

At the University of Florida, Drs. Crystal Bishop, Brian Reichow, Patricia Snyder, and James Algina are creating a professional development intervention and toolkit to support preschool teacher and family use of embedded instruction for early learning (EIEL), the intentional teaching of individual child learning goals within the context of routine activities. In previous IES-funded projects, the team developed and tested Tools for Teachers to support preschool teacher use of EIEL in the classroom setting. The research team is now developing Tools for Families to increase family engagement in EIEL across school and home settings. The goal of Tools for Families is to enhance family self-efficacy in the use of EIEL practices with their children and to improve children’s adaptive and school readiness skills. The research team is currently in the initial stages of the project and plans to pilot test the intervention after the iterative development phase is complete.

Integrated Behavior Support and Teacher Coaching System for Early Childhood Settings

At the University of Washington, Drs. Scott Spaulding and Kathleen Meeker are adapting a web-based application, Integrating Behavior Support and Team Technology (ibestt), originally designed for use in K-8, for early childhood contexts (ibestt-ec). These interventions aim to promote the individualized behavior support process from the point of initial teacher concern through intervention implementation and progress monitoring. Ibestt-ec is specifically designed to improve early childhood educators’ implementation of function-based supports for young children with or at risk for emotional or behavioral disorders. It includes professional development in the use of the application, function-based supports, and practice-based coaching; a behavior coaching tool to document teacher-coach activities; and a virtual family notebook to facilitate home-school communication. Currently ibestt-ec is undergoing field testing to examine usability and feasibility, and setting the stage for conducting a pilot study to evaluate the promise of the intervention on coach and teacher practices and child outcomes.

IES is committed to research on interventions aimed at supporting the providers and families of young children with or at risk for disabilities. We celebrate the work of the researchers, providers, and families of these children.

This blog was written by Alice Bravo, virtual intern for IES and doctoral candidate in special education at the University of Washington, and Amy Sussman, program officer for NCSER’s Early Intervention and Early Learning program.

What Does This Mean for Me? A Conversation about College and ADHD

Ever read an article or research abstract and wish you could ask the author questions? In this new IES series, “What Does This Mean for Me,” we are doing just that. IES researchers are answering questions to help students, educators, and others use their research. In the first round of this series, NCER virtual college interns are reaching out with questions relevant to their interests, goals, and communities. We invite you to learn more about not only what education science means for real people but also what students and other community members care about. This blog was written by Shirley Liu, virtual intern at NCER.

 

As part of my virtual internship with IES, I wanted to learn about research that was applicable to my own experiences. I decided to ask Dr. Art Anastopoulos about the unique challenges for postsecondary students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as strategies and interventions that can help students with ADHD succeed in college. With funding from IES, Dr. Anastopoulos evaluated an intervention called Accessing Campus Connections and Empowering Student Success (ACCESS) for students with ADHD. ACCESS aims to help college students succeed by increasing student knowledge about and ability to manage their diagnosis and to leverage campus supports.

 

Why are students with ADHD more likely to struggle in college than students without ADHD? What might be particularly challenging for them?

There are many possible reasons for why students with ADHD are more likely to struggle. For one thing, many high school students with ADHD lag behind their peers without ADHD, in terms of grade point average, less well-developed study-skills, etc. And this lag persists as they make the transition into college. Students with ADHD are also at increased risk for experiencing co-occurring mental health difficulties, such as depression and anxiety disorders, which together with ADHD interfere with college functioning.

Another useful way to understand the unique challenges of students with ADHD is through the notion of a “perfect storm.” [In this video (from 2:21 – 4:28), Art describes the “perfect storm” as the interplay between a diminished capacity for self-regulation that students with ADHD may have and the high levels of self-regulation that postsecondary education requires of students.]

In addition to their attentional difficulties and impulsivity, many students with ADHD have co-occurring executive functioning deficits, affecting their organization, planning, and time management. Together, such difficulties may lead to academic problems such as having trouble sitting through a boring class, taking detailed lecture notes, attending classes and other meetings on time, waiting until the last minute to complete papers and other long-term assignments, forgetting to preregister for upcoming courses, and placing greater emphasis on speed versus accuracy when taking tests. For similar reasons, students with ADHD may experience interpersonal problems with their friends, as well as difficulties in employment situations.

 

ACCESS is an institution-supported intervention for students with ADHD, but how exactly does ACCESS work?

ACCESS targets multiple deficit areas that can lead to impairment in multiple domains of daily functioning. More specifically, ACCESS is designed to increase student knowledge and understanding of ADHD, their use of behavioral strategies, and their adaptive thinking skills. To the extent that these goals are achieved, improvements in academic, emotional, social, and personal functioning are expected to occur.

 

In your opinion, how can professors best support college students with ADHD?

The most important thing that college professors can do is to respect a student’s need for formally recommended accommodations and to facilitate their implementation. Listed below are four common accommodations for college students with ADHD:

  • Taking exams in private locations where distractions are minimized
  • Having extended time to take exams
  • Being allowed to audio record lectures via smart pens or phone devices
  • Having another person take notes for them

 

How can students with ADHD prepare to succeed in college?

One of the most important thing students can do is to prepare for the increased demands that college brings while still in high school. This includes, for example, increasing their knowledge of ADHD. The more developmentally appropriate their understanding of ADHD is, the more likely students will accept their diagnosis. This can also help them recognize the importance of continuing and/or seeking out necessary treatments, such as medication management and counseling. The more that a student can wean themselves from dependence on parents and others for managing academic demands while in high school, the better able that student will be to manage the increased demands for self-regulation that college brings. This goes beyond academics and includes managing money, preparing meals, doing laundry, getting to doctors’ appointments, etc.

 

In addition to the written responses to my questions, Dr. Anastopoulos also shared links to videos and resources he and his team created as part of the grant. These are curated below and provide general overviews of ACCESS and the research project. In addition, he and his team have two recent publications that share the findings from the evaluation.

Video Resources:

 

Additional information about ACCESS:

 

Additional Reading:

  • Anastopoulos, A.D., Langberg, J.M., Eddy, L.D., Silvia, P.J., & Labban, J.D. (2021).  A randomized controlled trial examining CBT for college students with ADHD.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 89 (1), 21–33.  – Reports significant differences for ACCESS participants, namely of improved ADHD symptoms, executive functioning, clinical change mechanisms, and use of disability accommodations.
  • Eddy, L.D., Anastopoulos, A.D., Dvorsky, M.R., Silvia, P.J., Labban, J.D., & Langberg, J.M. (2021). An RCT of a CBT intervention for emerging adults with ADHD attending college: Functional outcomesJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. Reports findings that ACCESS may improve students’ self-reported general well-being and functioning as well as improved time management and study skills and strategies but may not show as much impact on students’ interpersonal relationships or GPA.

Dr. Art Anastopoulos is a Professor and the Director of the ADHD Clinic in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the School of Health and Human Sciences at UNC Greensboro.

Written by Shirley Liu, virtual intern at NCER and an English major at Lafayette College.

 

Gender Stereotypes in STEM: Emergence and Prevention

In 2018, Dr. Allison Master and co-PI Andrew Meltzoff were awarded a grant, Gender Stereotypes in STEM: Exploring Developmental Patterns for Prevention. This 4-year project explores how and when gender stereotypes about STEM career pathways emerge. The study also seeks to identify ways to mitigate the effects of such stereotypes, such as whether a growth mindset can lead to changes in student attitudes and outcomes toward STEM. As an undergraduate student majoring in microbiology at UCLA, Yuri Lin, virtual intern at NCER, was interested in learning more about gender inequalities and stereotypes in STEM education. She recently had a chance to talk with Dr. Master about her research and its implications for increasing STEM participation among women.

 

How is American culture affecting the STEM gender gap, and how does the US compare to other countries on this issue?

When children grow up in American culture, they see lots of TV shows and books where mathematicians, scientists, and engineers are men. STEM-based toys are also heavily marketed toward boys rather than girls. Some countries have begun changing the portrayal of gender stereotypes in the media. For example, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has recently started banning TV commercials that reinforce gender stereotypes. Some cross-national studies have shown that gender-STEM stereotypes favoring men are linked to women’s lower success and participation in STEM. The United States is one of many Western countries in which women have more equality and freedom to choose their careers but are much less likely to choose STEM careers than men. We still have a lot of work to do in the United States to break down barriers for women in STEM, and we need to focus on helping girls and women see the value in choosing pathways into STEM.

 

Why do you think it is important to examine growth mindset as a potential way to reduce the effects of stereotypes and increase STEM interest in students?

Growth mindsets are beliefs that personal characteristics can be changed, through effort or the right strategies. This is contrasted with fixed mindsets, which are beliefs that those characteristics can’t be changed. Growth mindsets are particularly helpful for struggling students. Students who have a growth mindset remain focused on learning rather than looking smart, believe effort is important, and stay resilient even when they experience setbacks. These attitudes translate into putting forth more effort and determination, which lead to greater success. In our project, we want to know if a growth mindset can help girls stay motivated in computer science, a subject that can have a steep learning curve. Girls in particular often get discouraged when they feel that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in STEM. We hope that teaching girls to have a growth mindset will protect them from these negative stereotypes and increase their confidence in themselves and their sense of belonging in computer science.

 

Considering that your project includes students from grades 1 to 12, how do you plan to share your findings with teachers, students, and policymakers? Are there differences in how you might communicate the information for different age groups?

As a developmental psychologist, I think it’s important to communicate the information about different age groups to everyone! It can be very valuable to frame student motivation in the broader context of how students are growing and changing. Students start to endorse stereotypes about computer science and engineering very early—Grades 1-3—so elementary school is a great time to start counteracting stereotypes by showing a broad representation of who enjoys and succeeds in STEM. We start to see big gender gaps in computer science interest during middle school, so this is a great time to have girls participate in fun and engaging coding classes. And we’ve already noted how important it is for girls in high school to have a growth mindset in their STEM classes.

We have different goals for communicating with teachers, parents, and policymakers. We know that teachers are very busy, so we try to condense things into the most important practical tips. We’ve made short videos and infographics about our research for teachers. For policymakers, we write policy briefs, which combines our research with other findings that are relevant to education policy. And when we talk to parents, we try to focus on the importance of the experiences they provide for their kids. We really value spreading the word about our research to make sure it reaches people who can use it to make a difference. For more information and access to the various resources, please visit the I AM Lab website.

 


Allison Master, PhD (@AllisonMaster), a developmental psychologist and an assistant professor at the University of Houston, has conducted extensive research on the development of motivation and identity in STEM education. 

Written by Yuri Lin (ylin010101@g.ucla.edu), intern for the Institute of Education Sciences and a Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics major at UCLA.

The Enduring Friendship of the MOCCA Team: How Camaraderie Benefits Research

This blog is a part of our Spotlight on IES Training Programs series and was written by Shirley Liu, a virtual intern for NCER.

One of the important—though sometimes overlooked—benefits of the IES training programs is friendship. When you think of what makes a good research team, friendship is probably not your first answer. However, the researchers behind the Multiple-Choice Online Causal Comprehension Assessment (MOCCA) demonstrate just how crucial strong bonds are. This blog shares how three long-time friends and members of the MOCCA team–Drs. Gina Biancarosa, Sarah Carlson, and Ben Seipel–have benefited from friendship.

 

(From top left: Sarah, Gina; Ben, Sarah; Gina, Ben)

 

How they met

Sarah and Ben first met during their IES predoctoral program at the University of Minnesota. During a grant-writing course, they developed a proposal for what would eventually become MOCCA. When Sarah attended the University of Oregon for her IES postdoctoral program, she met Gina, who ultimately joined in the MOCCA research.

The three scholars shared a passion for reading comprehension and assessment and a love for trading jokes. The team’s love of cute animal stories, especially otters, as another reason they get along well. “Every otter story that was in the news got shared multiple times,” Ben said as others laughed in agreement. Over the years, they have continued to invest in their shared interests and in one another.

How their friendship benefits their work

The three credit their friendship as contributing to their personal and professional growth in three key ways.

Combatting loneliness. According to Gina, “[Socialization] just gets you out of your head. That is not only good for your emotional health and mental health, but also for stimulating new ideas and improving the rigor of old ideas.” Whether it is visiting cool restaurants, taking pictures of each other with funny filters after long conferences, or going on retreats, the MOCCA team makes sure to create time for non-research related activities. Even during the pandemic, MOCCA still prioritizes the socialization aspect of their research by meeting online instead.

Creating a supportive atmosphere that encourages taking risks. The MOCCA team has found that their friendship creates an open-minded and supportive atmosphere for their research. This environment encourages risk taking and helps researchers voice their opinions. In turn, this stimulates innovation and intellectual diversity. “It makes it easier to float ideas that you think might not be all there and not have to risk rejection. They’ll tell you if it’s not all there, but you’re not going to feel crushed,” explained Gina. “It makes you take more risks.”

Fostering growth and personal development. The MOCCA team has also found that friendship leads them to see one another as more than just experts. Instead, they acknowledge their individual strengths while encouraging one another to grow intellectually as complex and constantly learning individuals. As a result, each member of the MOCCA team contributes to the research in unique and equally appreciated ways. “We all have that creative energy, but we have different types of creative energy,” said Ben. “Sarah is really the dreamer: What can this look like? What can it do for teachers? And I really am an innovator: I take things that are different, make them new, and get at things that we have not been able to get at in the past. But Gina really brings that maker aspect: How can we actually make this work? What are the things that function in our toolbox to make it happen?”

The value of friendship

Although the MOCCA team’s bond seems like a uniquely serendipitous union of like-minded people, all of us can reap the benefits of friendship in research and in everyday life. This past year has taught us the value of community and personal relationships in times of isolation. Researchers like the MOCCA team have known this for years.


Dr. Carlson and Dr. Seipel were predoctoral fellows in the Minnesota Interdisciplinary Training in Education Research program, Dr. Biancarosa was a postdoctoral fellow in Stanford University’s Postdoctoral Research Training in the Education Sciences program, and Dr. Carlson was a postdoctoral fellow in the Preparing Education Scientist training program. For more information about MOCCA, please visit the MOCCA webpages (here and here). 

The MOCCA team has been awarded three IES grants to support their measurement work: Multiple-choice Online Cloze Comprehension Assessment (MOCCA) (R305A140185); Multiple-choice Online Causal Comprehension Assessment for Postsecondary Students (MOCCA-College) (R305A180417); Multiple-choice Online Causal Comprehension Assessment Refinement (R305A190393).

By Shirley Liu, virtual intern for NCER and an English/Anthropology & Sociology double major at Lafayette College.