UMass Boston

Abbey Eisenhower

McCormack Hall Floor 04

Area of Expertise

Child clinical psychology, school-based interventions, teacher professional development, autism, early school adjustment


PhD, University of California, Los Angeles

Professional Publications & Contributions

Additional Information


Our research team shares interests in the early childhood and school experiences, family factors, and relationships of autistic children* and other groups of children during childhood and adolescence. We employ a neurodiversity-affirming lens to understanding autism and prioritize centering the first-person perspectives of autistic students and adults. Our projects aim to equip teachers to support their autistic students in the classroom, to promote affirming resources for clinicians and others, and to uplift the views of autistic students and adults. Our research involves partnering with schools, early intervention agencies, teachers, and intervention providers.   Recent projects include:

  1. The Smooth Sailing Study, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences through an Initial Efficacy Grant (2023-2028, PI: Eisenhower), is an effort to improve early school experiences for autistic children. This is a two-site study with Dr. Jan Blacher's team at the University of California Riverside and in collaboration with Narmene Hamsho (Fairleigh-Dickinson University) and others (see recent article here). The transition to formal schooling is a crucial milestone for children, and autistic children may face particular challenges in school contexts that are often better set up for non-autistic children. At the same time, general education teachers report wanting better support to meet the needs of their autistic students. Our team is conducting a randomized, controlled trial (RCT) of our Smooth Sailing program, a professional development (PD) program on autism for teachers. Our team developed this program in partnership with teachers and with autistic students and adults. The program prioritizes a neurodiversity-affirming understanding of autism and supports teachers in building strong student -teacher relationships.  Over 2023-2026 we will implement this PD program with 150 teachers in Boston-area and Southern California schools and assess its efficacy in improving teacher, student, and relational outcomes.
  2. The School Experiences Study, funded in part by a UMB Public Service Grant, is a qualitative interview study with 20 autistic adolescents and adults regarding their school experiences, interactions with teachers and peers, and their identities as autistic students. The first wave of this study was conducted in partnership with former grad student Sarah Levinson, Professor Shana Cohen at UCSD, and other non-autistic and autistic collaborators. These findings inform our development of neurodiversity-affirming training for teachers. A second wave of this study is led by graduate student Nicole Nadwodny and draws from the shared expertise and lived experience of the autistic and non-autistic collaborators on our team. Qualitative analysis through a critical constructivist grounded theory approach has highlighted themes around the impact of systemic ableism in autistic students' school experiences; the power of student-teacher relationships as affirming, empowering forces or ableist, exclusionary forces; the importance of intersectionality between students' autistic identities and other identities; factors affecting self-advocacy; and the role of systemic ableism in harsh, exclusionary discipline practices.
  3. The Early Childhood Educators’ Study. Early learning settings are crucial influences on children’s social-emotional development. Unfortunately, one in six autistic children are expelled from child-care or preschool settings before starting kindergarten. Funded by a Noonan Foundation grant (2023-2025) and UMB internal grant funding, we are developing a professional development (PD) program on autism for child-care and preschool educators. Qualitative interviews with educators, program development, and pilot-testing are underway in 2023-2025. In partnership with educators and autistic collaborators, we are shaping this program to offer an autism-affirming, neurodiversity-informed lens on autism and help educators build positive relationships with neurodivergent young children.
  4. The ABCD Early Screening Project, a collaboration with Dr. Alice Carter as well as researchers at UMass Medical Center and Rutgers, is a recently-completed study in which we implemented a multi-stage, early screening protocol with three local Early Intervention (El) agencies. The project originally emerged from UMB grad student Frances Martinez Pedraza's dissertation and expanded with funding from HRSA and NIMH to address disparities in identification and service access for children of color, English learners, and children with low socioeconomic resources. We partnered with local El agencies to screen 2300+ children and conduct over 500 developmental evaluations. Findings suggest that the multi-stage, universal screening program in El can reduce disparities in the rates and ages of autism diagnosis for young children.

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 (Taboas et al., 2023; see Bottema-Beutel et al., 2020 for details).


Dr. Eisenhower teaches the following courses:

  • Psych 241: Infancy and Childhood (undergraduate)
  • Psych 441: The Family and the Child (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)