Current Research and Research Projects at MSC

Current Research

The Effect of e-books on Preschool Children's Emergent Literacy Skills. There has been a significant increase in the use of electronic technology for educational purposes for young children; however, there is very little research on the impact this has on children's development, specifically on children's emergent literacy skills. The goal of the present study is to begin this exploration by comparing the effect e-books have on preschool-aged children's early literacy skills when compared to traditional books. The study will compare 3 conditions, (1) adult-led e-book reading experience, (2) adult-led traditional book reading experience, and (3) child led e-book experience on children's engagement, communicative initiations, comprehension, and preference during the reading sessions. The proposed study will also investigate the mediating effect that demographic characteristics (gender, age, and SES) might have in this process. The study will be implemented at two sites with a total of 64 children ages 3 and 4.

Impact of Swallow Physiology on Dietary Diversity in Children. Chronic feeding problems leading to decreased volume and variety of foods have the potential to significantly impact nutrition and hydration status required for adequate growth and development. The underlying causes of these feeding problems range from medical, developmental, social, and environmental factors. A potential factor in poor feeding and reduced dietary intake in children is oropharyngeal dysphagia, characterized by difficulty moving food from the mouth into the throat and esophagus during the act of swallowing (Penagini et al., 2015). It is possible that a child may not possess the skills necessary to be successful at eating complex, mixed, or multi-textured foods leading to food selectivity due to poorly developed oral-motor skills and lack of oral-motor confidence, rather than a true desire for a restrictive diet of single textured foods (Fraker & Walbert, 2011).

Current research evidence supports the potential impact of oral-motor skills on food selectivity; however, there is no research investigating the potential impact of the underlying biomechanics of swallowing on food restriction. The primary purpose of the proposed study is to evaluate if there is a correlation between swallow physiology and reduced dietary inventory in children. Determining if specific physiologic patterns of swallow function are related to refusal of certain food consistencies would provide vital information to guide the course of treatment. Addressing the possible underlying swallowing deficit would likely increase acceptance of a wider variety of foods. Further investigation regarding the possible underlying cause of these chronic feeding problems is essential in order to develop evidence-based assessment and treatment approaches to promote best clinical practice.

Evaluation of the Happiest Toddler on the Block curriculum. The purpose of the study is to evaluate the impact the "Happiest Toddler on the Block: (HTB)" DVD and curriculum has on increasing parental self-efficacy, reduction of parental stress, reduction of negative child behaviors, and increase in adaptive child behaviors. The HTB method was developed by Dr. Harvey Karp, a nationally renowned pediatrician, child development specialist and Assistant Professor in pediatrics at USC School of Medicine. He is the author of two best-selling books, The Happiest Baby on the Block (2002) and The Happiest Toddler on the Block (2004), which have been translated to over 20 languages.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Children's Bereavement Center's Model in Promoting Functionality in Children's and Families Experiencing the Loss of a Loved One. Funded by a grant from the Shepard Broad Foundation. This study evaluates the effectiveness of a program offered by the Children's Bereavement Center to children and families experiencing the death of a loved one. There is a great need for the delivery of evidence-based loss and bereavement programs. The results of this study can help identify an effective model that could be offered to a large number of families. The goal is to have 60 families participating in the study; each family will include at least one child and one caregiver. A quantitative and qualitative mixed-method approach will be employed to study the impact of the program on functionality on both children and adults

Knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding bullying in early childhood. Funded by the President's Research Faculty Development Grant. The goal of this study is to achieve a better understanding of preschool teachers' knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding bullying behaviors in early childhood programs. Specifically, the study will aim to answer the following questions (1) How do early education staff, including administrators, teachers and teaching assistants, define bullying behavior in early childhood settings? (2) What are early education staff perceptions of the prevalence of bullying behavior in early childhood settings? (3) Do early education staff believe they have the knowledge and skills to identify and address bullying behaviors in early childhood settings? (4) Is there an association between early education staff demographic characteristics; specifically, years of teaching, level of education, and ethnicity, and the teachers' knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding bullying behaviors? (5) Is there an association between the school's socio-cultural and demographic characteristics; specifically, size of the school, age of children served, population served, location of the school, and type of program, and the early education staff knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding bullying behaviors? (6) Are there differences in knowledge and attitudes between program administrators, teachers and teacher assistants?

Factors affecting teaching implementation of the Rethink Autism program. Funded by the Organization for Autism Research. The goal of this study is to assess the effectiveness of Rethink Autism on teacher performance and children's outcomes within middle school, self-contained settings. A quasi-experimental, non-equivalent groups design will be used for the study. A total of 18 classrooms, composing three groups serving children with autism spectrum disorders, will be included in the study.

Making public libraries accessible for young children with autism spectrum disorders. Funded by Autism Speaks. The goal of the project is to facilitate the active participation of young children with autism spectrum disorders in story time activities at the library.

Translational research on resistance to change. Funded by the National Institutes of Health. Site Principal Investigator with J.A. Nevin, W. Dube, W. Ahern, I. DeLeon & T. Shahan. RO1 HD064576 Eunice K. Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

Translational Analyses of Chronic Aberrant Behavior Across the Life Span. Funded by the National Institutes of Health. Site Principal Investigator with M.F. Cataldo, I. DeLeon, W. McIlvane, & D. Williams. 1PO1HD055456-01A2. Eunice K. Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD

Behavioral persistence: Basic, translational and clinical studies. Funded by the National Institutes of Health. Site Principal Investigator with J.A. Nevin, W. Dube, W. Ahern, I. DeLeon & T. Shahan. RO1 HD064576 Eunice K. Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD

Cysteine-Rich Whey Protein Supplementation in Children with Autism: Effects in Core Areas of Behavior and Glutathione Levels. Funded by Immunotec, in collaboration with the NSU School of Pharmacy. The goal of this study is to assess the effects of this supplement on core areas of behavior and language functioning in preschool-age children with ASD.

Starting Right Evaluation Project. Children participating in Starting Right, an early intervention program for caregivers and children diagnosed with, or at risk for, autism spectrum disorders, are assessed when they begin the intervention and when they graduate from the program in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention model. Period: Ongoing

A Comparison of Three Treatment Models for Preschool-Age Children with Autism and Their Families. The purpose of this study is to assess the efficacy of the Baudhuin model for preschool-age children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. This study will be part of a larger study looking at the efficacy of educational programs aimed at preschool children with autism. The efficacy of the Baudhuin model will be compared with two other widely used classroom-based preschool models that serve children with autism, TEACCH and LEAP, as well as with a "Business as Usual Model".

Demographic Differences in Identification and Program Access for Children with Autism. A demographic questionnaire was developed to administer to families attending the Baudhuin Preschool, a specialized preschool program for children ages three to five diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. The questionnaire allows us to understand the socio-cultural composition of the children and families attending the Baudhuin Preschool and the way these factors influence age of initial concern, age of diagnosis, and timing, frequency and intensity of services received by children.

Camp Yofi Evaluation project. The purpose of this project is to evaluate the effectiveness of Camp Yofi, a one week family camp specifically designed to provide support and work with families with children with an autism spectrum diagnosis.

Recently Completed Research

Music Counts: A Specialized Treatment Program for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The study will address the question of whether the implementation of a specialized music program can have a positive impact on behavioral outcomes of preschool children with autism. Traditionally, a rich, daily classroom schedule for young children with autism provides instruction on functional routines and pre-academic concepts, such as math and science, play and social engagement activities, and receptive and expressive language development. However, many times other strategies that might support children's development, such as the use of music, are not included because of lack of time or resources. There has been an increase in the use of music-based activities to treat children with autism despite the fact that very little information exists in terms of the effectiveness of those interventions especially when looking at behavioral changes. This research seeks to fill the research gap by exploring if including a music program, implemented twice a week for a 9- week period, has a positive impact on children's behaviors and readiness skills. Specifically, the study will assess the following variables: increases in attention engagement, responsiveness and imitation; and reduction in repetitive, stereotyped behaviors and negative behaviors. The program was implemented at the Baudhuin Preschool: 100 children participated in the study that employed both single subject and a group design methodologies to answer the questions.

Learning for Leadership. The purpose of the program was to improve the quality of early childhood education by enhancing the leadership capacities of the early care and education directors. Leadership for Learning (LFL) worked with early childhood center directors in Broward County to institute systemic change in their programs. The project was comprised of two main components: (1) a Director Institute (DI), and (2) Direct center support. The DI met three times during the school year with the focus on the following areas: (1) personal and professional self-awareness, (2) legal and fiscal management, (3) staff management and human relations, (4) educational programming, (5) program operations and facilities management, (6) family support, (7) marketing and public relations, (8) leadership and advocacy, (9) oral and written communication, (10) technology, and (11) child growth and development. All of these areas have been found to predict quality in early childhood settings. An early childhood specialist kept in touch with the center directors between meetings to help implement the material being covered at each session. Based on feedback received from the directors, the majority of participants reported an increase in their leadership and management skills; and more importantly, in their ability to reflect on these skills and the way their leadership style has an impact on their staff. In addition, directors expressed high levels of satisfaction with the program including the presentations, activities, materials and support provided to them.

Evaluation of the Building Literacy Project. Funded through an Early Reading First grant from the Department of Education. This project was conducted in collaboration with Broward County Public Schools. The goal of the project was to provide support for preschool age children who are at risk for academic and reading failure, due to delays in language development and early literacy skills, variables studied included changes in the classroom, curricular activities, and teacher technical support. MSC was responsible for conducting the evaluation of the project.

Healthy Beginnings. Funded through the A.D. Henderson Foundation, this project provided systematic, relationship-based training and consultation to parents and childcare staff to help support children's socio-emotional development and in turn, reduce the incidence of behavioral and social-emotional deficits.

Making the Museum of Discovery and Science Accessible to All. Funded through NSU's Quality of Life Grant. The goal of this project was to address the accessibility of the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale to children with autism spectrum disorders, as well as other special needs. This project was a collaboration between the museum and several NSU departments, including the Mailman Segal Center, Abraham S. Fischler School of Education - Speech, Language, and Communication Disorders program, and the UM-NSU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.

Coping Styles in a Group of Diverse Families with a Young Child with Autism. Funded through a Chancellor's Faculty Research Development Grant, the goal of this study was to begin an exploration of the coping patterns of a culturally diverse group of families that have a young child diagnosed with ASD.

The results of this study point to a relationship between knowledge of autism, stress, life satisfaction, and perceived impact of having a child with ASD. Thus, providing families with more information regarding ASD can be a factor in reducing stress and increasing life satisfaction. The findings also highlight the effect culture has on this relationships, coping practices and effective interventions and support services. Hispanic families as a group seemed to be experiencing more stress, lesser life satisfaction and be more negatively impacted by having a child with ASD. In addition, these families experience more challenges receiving support initially from their families because of a lack of understanding and awareness of the ASD diagnosis. Thus, the support services aimed at this group of families should be tailored to their specific needs. Programs need to be developed that incorporate the unique issues that Hispanic families are encountering.

Effectiveness of Faculty Autism Awareness Training in Higher Education, Funded through the Chancellor's Research Faculty Development Grant, this study was designed to evaluate the provision of a specialized training program for awareness of high functional autism (HFA) to faculty of undergraduate and graduate programs at Nova Southeastern University.

The results indicated statistically significant differences between the pretest and posttest in faculty knowledge regarding characteristics and challenges of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder as well as the knowledge of university resources that can assist students with ASD. There were no significant differences on questions regarding knowledge of technology and tools and effective teaching strategies that can increase development of peer relationships and classroom participation for students with ASD.

A Prekindergarten Peer-Mediated Intervention for Children with Autism. Funded through the Chancellor's Research Faculty Development Grant. The study sought to replicate and extend previous research by examining the effectiveness of an evidence-based intervention for pre-kindergarten children with ASD ("stay, play, and talk").

Observational data supported findings from previous research suggest that passive proximity, or inclusion alone, is insufficient to increase social initiations between pre-kindergarten children with ASD and their typically developing peers. Results provide some evidence for the effectiveness of the "stay, play, and talk" procedure, but in particular, for the contingency management component of the intervention. Some evidence of generalization was also obtained.

ABA Supervision. The ABA practicum supervisors at the Mailman Segal Center developed supervision guidelines and assignments to provide structure to the practicum experience. The purpose of the study was to review the practicum assignments and assess the degree to which these assignments adequately prepare practicum students to utilize the procedures of ABA skillfully, appropriately and ethically. In addition to the practicum assignments, competency assessment tools have been developed to accompany each training item. The aim of the competency assessment tools is to verify that a practicum student can demonstrate mastery in an applied setting of the material addressed in the respective module. An additional goal of the research study was to evaluate the efficacy of these competency assessment tools by examining validity and inter-rater reliability.

Preparing Foster Care to Support Individuals with Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Funded through an NSU Quality of Life Grant. The goal of this study was to create a partnership between the Jewish Adoption and Foster Care Options (JAFCO) and Nova Southeastern University to provide staff training and coaching to their foster care staff. The JAFCO opened a respite center for children with autism and other developmental disabilities in 2013 and their staff lacked the expertise to provide programs and services to this population. This training initiative provided the support they needed to develop a program that meets the needs of this complex population.

Using Intentional Play Based Experiences to Enhance Development. Funded by the President's Research Faculty Development Grant. The goal of this study was to compare the quality, type of play and incidence of negative behaviors of two groups of children, younger and older preschoolers while playing on a `traditional' playground and while playing with a set of large, moveable foam pieces purposefully designed to promote open-ended free play. Forty preschool-age children were observed for 10 minutes twice weekly, once playing in the `traditional' playground and once playing with the open-ended loose play material. Observations were videotaped and coded using the Play Observation Scale-Revised (Rubin, 2001). The study addressed the following research questions: (1) Are there differences in quality and type of play when children play on a `traditional' playground vs. experiences with open-ended, loose part play materials? (2) Are there differences in incidence of negative behaviors when children play on a `traditional' playground vs. experiences with open-ended, loose part play materials? (3) Does age mediate quality, type of play and incidence of behavioral challenges across the two settings of play?

Evaluation of a Novel Procedure to Increase Compliance in Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Funded by the Chancellor's Research Faculty Development Grant. The goal of the study was to teach six children with Autism Spectrum Disorder ages 18 months through 36 months enrolled in the MSC Starting Right Program how to comply with key instructions using a compliance training method developed by the principal investigator. After compliance was established with the experimenters, parents were taught to use similar procedures to establish the generality of compliance. The effectiveness of the procedure was evaluated using single subject research methodology.