My Research

 

Because my training is in child clinical psychology, the research I do is different than the research carried out by other members of the Psychology Department. Whereas many of my colleagues are able to utilize undergraduates as participants in their research, the three samples of participants I use in my research are: children with autism, children who have been exposed to domestic violence, and children who have been abused. I have been actively involved in research at Willamette since 1992, the year I joined the faculty, and have both published and presented my work regularly.  I conduct research that complements and enlivens my teaching.  Whenever possible, I try to involve students in my research and have been fortunate to have involved a number of great students over the years. I also take great pride in supervising students' own original research in areas related to child clinical psychology.

 

For a complete overview of my research, please click on the link to my Vita on the home page.  Below I will summarize some of the research I have conducted in each of my three main areas of research.

 

Autism Research

 

My interest in autism research began when I was asked by my husband, Steve, to assess the intelligence of children with autism in association with work he was doing through his research center, the Center for the Study of Autism.  Often, parents would ask Steve about who could assess their child with autism. Steve would refer the families to me.  I used to conduct thorough assessments of the children and discovered a very interesting finding: my assessments of the intelligence of the children with autism did not necessarily coincide with the results of prior assessments; my assessments often revealed that the child was more intelligent than had previously been determined.  This led me to think about the differences in how I approached the intellectual assessment of a child with autism in relation to how other evaluators had.  The first thing I noticed was that most evaluations of children with autism relied on verbally-based or timed measures of intelligence.  Children with autism often have communication and attention impairments that make reliance on these measures inappropriate.  The measures I used were nonverbal and untimed, and it seemed that this was accounting for the differences in the assessment outcomes.  While I discontinued assessing children with autism clinically after the birth of my second child in 1995 (one only has so much time in the day!), I continued investigating issues in the assessment of intelligence in individuals with autism. 

 

Two papers I published assessed the appropriateness of using the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (TONI) in individuals with autism.  The first paper was published in 1998 in Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities and presents data from a study in which we assessed the intelligence of over 250 individuals with autism. The results indicated that the average score on the TONI was approximately 90 (in the low average range of intelligence).  We found that approximately 20% of our sample scored in the mentally retarded range; this was considerably lower than reports from other studies using more verbally-based or timed measures of intelligence.  For this study, we attempted to assess nearly 400 individuals–thus, the data collection process spanned many years from 1992-1997.  However, we were lucky enough to piggyback on the data collection process of another study.  This is why we were able to obtain such a large sample in a relatively short period of time.  Early reports from this study were presented in 1992 and 1994 at the Western Psychological Association conference.


 

The second paper, also published in Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities in 1998, reports a replication study using a sample of autistic individuals from Taiwan.  We created subsets from the U.S. data that matched a sample of Taiwanese participants and compared the two samples to see if we could replicate our findings from the first study.  Our results indicated striking consistency across the two studies, despite the fact that the sample from Taiwan was significantly less verbal than the U.S. sample   In addition to an assessment of the utility of the TONI for individuals with autism, both TONI studies investigated the variables that predicted scores on the TONI including verbal ability, attention, and level of autism.  We found that as verbal ability and attention increased, so did intelligence scores.  Somewhat paradoxically, moderate levels of autism predicted higher intelligence scores whereas low or severe levels of autism predicted lower scores.

 

I have continued my research regarding the relationship between autism and intelligence.  I recently completed a research project in which I investigated whether real-world knowledge deficits affect the determination of intelligence in individuals with autism.  The short answer is: yes! This research is in press at Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities.  Another study, under review at Focus, investigated the claims in the literature that the majority of individuals with autism are also mentally retarded. This research was archival in nature and involved reading hundreds of journal articles, chapters in edited books, and books to find any that made claims about the prevalence rate of mental retardation in persons with autism and then to evaluate the evidence in support of those claims.

 

MHK Project

 

A second line of research in which I am involved is the Moms Helping Kids (MHK) project, an intervention developed by my colleague at San Diego State University, Audrey Hokoda, Ph.D. and myself in 1994.  The goal of MHK is to educate nonabusive moms on how to best help their children deal with the effects of domestic violence.  The program is a 12-week educational program for the mothers and their children.  Prior to the program, moms and children complete multiple questionnaires assessing behaviors and feelings in response to domestic violence.  These measures are again completed at the conclusion of the 12-week program and again 12 weeks after that.  The MHK program itself couches the effects of domestic violence in the framework of a response to trauma.  Mothers are taught to recognize signs of trauma in their children as well as to address specific behaviors that result from this (such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem). 

 

Dr. Hokoda and I have submitted the MHK curriculum for publication consideration to Haworth Press, Inc. We also have a paper in press at the Journal of Family Violence that examines the differences in responses to domestic violence between Latina and non-Latina women.  Our findings indicated that Latina women have greater difficulties following domestic violence than do non-Latina women when both groups were matched for the severity of the violence to which they were exposed and time away from their abuser.  Currently, we are continuing to work on manuscripts that report on the efficacy of the MHK program.  One manuscript is nearly completed and  is a report of the evaluation of the MHK program in Mexico City.  We will also be writing a report of our findings with a larger sample of women and children both in the U.S. and in Mexico. We have presented our MHK research previously at the 4th International Conference on Children Exposed to Family Violence in 1998, at the 2nd  biannual conference on Domestic Violence, Washington County, OR in 1996 (an invited talk), and at the 21st annual Feminist Psychology Conference of the Association for Women in Psychology also in 1996.

 

Research on Abused Children

 

The third strand of my research agenda involves studies related to the abuse of children. Debbie Joa, intake coordinator at Liberty House, a child abuse assessment center, and I recently completed a study evaluating the outcomes of children seen at Liberty House. Our study compared children seen at Liberty House to a control group of children obtained from the Marion County District Attorney’s Office database.  The children were matched on age of child and the relationship of the child to the offender.  We also matched on sex of child where possible.  Our key findings were that more cases were filed with the DA if the child was seen at Liberty House; when cases were filed, more counts were charged if the child was seen at Liberty House; for filed cases, more perpetrators were found or pled guilty if the child was seen at Liberty House; more cases were filed for 4-6 year olds and 12+ year olds if the child was seen at Liberty House; and more counts were charged for biodads and stepdads if the child was seen at Liberty House. This research has been recently published in Child Maltreatment, and Debbie and I are planning on starting a study replicating and expanding this research soon.  We have also presented the results of this line of research at the Western Psychological Association conference and at the APSAC Colloquium.