UMass Boston

Aaron Parayno

Department:
Leadership in Education
Title:
Associate Lecturer

Abbey Eisenhower, PhD

Associate Professor of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts

Areas of Expertise

Child Clinical Psychology, Developmental Psychopathology, Early School Adjustment, Treatment Outcome Research

Degrees

PhD, University of California, Los Angeles

Professional Publications & Contributions

Additional Information

RESEARCH

Our research team shares interests in the early school experiences, family factors, and relationships of autistic children, and on efforts to improve the school environment and relational experiences of autistic youth with their teachers and peers. We are also focused on efforts to reduce health disparities in the early detection of autism and early supports for children and families.  Recent projects include:

1) The Smooth Sailing Study, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, is an ongoing effort to understand and improve early school experiences for autistic* children. This study is a two-site effort with Dr. Jan Blacher’s research team at the University of California Riverside.  The transition to formal schooling is a crucial milestone for all children, and autistic children with ASD may face particular socio-emotional and academic challenges in classroom contexts that are often better set up to accommodate the needs of non-autistic children. At the same time, general education teachers report wanting better support and strategies to meet the needs of their autistic students. After recently completing a longitudinal study of the early school period for autistic children, we are now developing a professional development program for teachers, especially general education teachers. This training for teachers was developed in partnership with current teachers and in consultation with autistic students and adults. The program places special emphasis on the importance of student-teacher relationships and on skills for building strong relationships with students. 

2) The School Experiences Study, funded by a UMB Public Services Grant, is a qualitative interview-based study in which we interviewed 10 autistic adolescents and adults about their school experiences, the ways in which their autism was understood and addressed in school, and their interactions with teachers. We engaged a subset of these participants as ongoing expert consultants in our development of autism-focused teacher trainings. Ongoing qualitative analysis of these data has revealed themes around mental health (including the ways in which teacher and school practices fostered, supported, or exacerbated students' mental health needs), intersectionality (including the ways in which autistic students navigated their autism identity alongside their racial identities, sexuality, and gender identities), student-teacher relationships (as affirming, empowering forces and ableist, exclusionary forces), the impact of harsh, exclusionary discipline practices (expulsion, restraint), and self-advocacy. These findings inform our development of person-centered training for teachers.

3) The ABCD Early Screening Project, a collaboration with Dr. Alice Carter as well as researchers at BU and Rutgers, is aimed at improving rates of early identification and support services for young children with ASD. In particular, we are focused on reducing health disparities in identification and service access for children of color, English learners, and children with low socioeconomic resources. Partnering with local Early Intervention (EI) agencies, we conducted a multi-stage, universal screening and assessment protocol for all E.I.-enrolled children ages 0-3 from 2013 to 2019. Our findings suggest that this model can reduce disparities in the rates and ages of autism diagnosis for young children.  Current analyses examine the program's impact on children's access to support services, on the experiences of bilingual versus monolingual children, and other research questions.

Other lab studies, including the School Transitions Study (STS) and the Child & Family Development Project (CFDP), have focused on the early developmental, socio-emotional, and contextual experiences of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children experiencing poverty and marginalization.

* Identity-first language is used to reflect the preferences of many autistic individuals (Kenny et al., 2016; see Bottema-Beutel et al., 2020 for details).

TEACHING:

Dr. Eisenhower teaches the following courses:

Psych 141G First-Year Seminar: Children's Social Worlds (undergraduate)

Psych 241: Infancy and Childhood (undergraduate)

Psych 484: Field Placement in Child Development (undergraduate)

Psycln 613: Lifespan Developmental Psychopathology (graduate)

Psycln 699: Master's Research Seminar (graduate)

Psycln 721: Child Therapy (graduate)

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