CARE Lab Undergraduate Research

Supported Undergraduate Research Projects


Case Study of Language Variation in School-Aged Autistic Children - Led by Bayleigh Baldwin

Title: Case Study of Language Variation in School-Aged Autistic Children: Uncovering Diversity Through Transcripts (Winter 2024)

Abstract: Children on the autism spectrum possess diverse language abilities. However, this variability is often undercharacterized by studies that evaluate autistic language abilities solely on test scores without examining children’s data-rich language initiations. This case study will examine the language of three autistic school-aged children who were recruited for a four-year exploratory study examining inclusion of autistic children within general education settings. The study will examine a language sample produced during the Early Social Communication Scales standardized structured-play assessment (ESCS) using the Computerized Language Analysis (CLAN) program. The language will be qualitatively examined to find expressive language patterns and quantitatively analyzed to check for correlations. Mean length of utterance (MLU), frequency of lexical items (FREQ), ESCS Initiating Joint Attention (IJA) and Responding to Joint Attention (RJA) scores, and scores from the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) will be compared to gain a wider understanding of the sample’s language skills. The author expects to find variations in students’ expressive language abilities in their speech samples that do not correlate with their receptive language scores. This study hopes to add more dimension to the presumed spectrum of autistic language and frame autistic language abilities as diverse across students.

Bayleigh Baldwin is a third-year undergraduate student studying Linguistics, Spanish, and History. She is interested in examining autistic language diversity inside and outside of the classroom.

Teacher Perspectives of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Neurodiverse Students’ Education – Led by Simran Raina

Title: Teacher Perspectives on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Education of Neurodiverse Students (Winter 2024)

Description: There has been an increase in the percentage of students requiring special education or related services. This increase has been markedly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as an increasing percentage of neurodivergent students are placed in inclusive general education classrooms. Prior research primarily focused on caregiver perspectives during the pandemic. Thus, this study aims to focus on teacher perspectives, as teacher-student relationships may influence student outcomes. Furthermore, teachers can speak on the educational and social impact of the pandemic on their students. 

Method: Data was obtained from 4 teachers, ranging from TK to third grade, from different schools in Northern California. These teachers were interviewed on their experience teaching after the pandemic, specifically regarding classroom management, student outcomes, and professional development or other related resources. All teachers had experience teaching before, during, and after the pandemic.

Results: From these interviews, three themes arose including, teacher support, behavior labeling, and limited skill development.

Conclusion: This study provides insight into how teaching, especially of neurodivergent learners, has been impacted by the pandemic as we enter this “post-pandemic era.” It also serves to highlight the need for increased support for teachers to better navigate supporting different types of learners. 

My name is Simran Raina, and I am a fourth-year undergraduate student at the CARE lab. I will graduate in March 2024 with a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior and a B.A. in Psychology. 

Peer Mediated Learning Opportunities for Children with Autism - Led by Mitchell Madison

Title: Observations of Learning Contexts: Examining Peer Mediated Learning Opportunities for Children with Autism within General Education Literacy Lessons (Summer 2022)

Abstract: The benefits of peer mediated classroom engagement for students with and without autism have been linked to academic, language, communication, and social skill development. However, questions exist as to how often peer mediated learning opportunities are being afforded to students with autism, as well as how teachers are supporting students’ participation within these contexts. This exploratory study relied on the classroom video observations of thirteen elementary students with autism as they engaged in literacy lessons alongside their peers within general education classrooms in order to document the duration of time they spent in peer mediated and other learning contexts. We then examined student productivity within whole group and peer mediated contexts. We also described the language and materials teachers used to structure or scaffold the learning process. Our findings revealed that peer mediated opportunities accounted for 12.12% of instructional time on average (M = 4:09.26, SD = 5:08.36). Student productivity was low across instructional contexts overall. However, students exhibited more productivity during peer mediated contexts relative to all others, spending 13.06% of the time productively engaged (M = 4:45.65, SD = 4:26.51). Scaffolds and planned peer-mediated time were minimal, with teachers most frequently requesting students to discuss content with their peers. These findings align with the current literature base, potentially outlining the benefits of peer-mediated contexts for learners with autism as well as emphasize the need for more planned, structured peer opportunities overall.  

Mitchell Madison is a fourth-year psychology undergraduate student at UC Davis and a 2022 OEOES research fellow.

Fragile X Syndrome and Emotion Regulation Project – Led by Cameron Alexander, Human Development and Psychology

Cameron AlexanderTitle: Preliminary Validation of an Observational Measure of Emotion Regulation for Individuals with Fragile X Syndrome (Spring, 2021)

Description: This project aims to provide preliminary validation for the Classroom Measure of Active Engagement observational measures of emotion regulation (ER) in young adults with Fragile X Syndrome. In this project, we look at the associations between ER ratings and biological markers of psychosocial stress using salivary alpha-amylase, behavioral reports using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), and measures of anxiety as reported in the Anxiety, Depression, and Mood Scale (ADAMS).

Abstract: Emotion regulation (ER) is the combination of physiological, behavioral, and emotional states that provide the tools needed to adapt through everyday situations. Studies often measure ER using rating scales completed by a caregiver, potentially resulting in biased representations of ER. This study aims to examine the construct validity of an observational measure of ER outlined in the Classroom Measure of Active Engagement (CMAE). Participants included 29 males with Fragile X Syndrome between the ages of 15-22 who were recruited for a longitudinal study at the UC Davis MIND Institute. As part of the larger study, video observations of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) were collected, and parents completed a battery of questionnaires to measure anxiety and behavior. Three trained raters coded ER using the ADOS observations; interrater agreement was high (88.87%). Findings indicated significant, positive correlations between emotion dysregulation and salivary alpha-amylase (sAA) readings (r= 0.622; p < 0.01), suggesting an association between ER and psychosocial stress expressed by the sAA recordings. The associations between ER with anxiety and behavior were not significant. These findings offer preliminary support for the validation of the ER construct outlined on the CMAE, and substantiate the role of physiological arousal in ER.

Keywords: Fragile X Syndrome, Emotion Regulation, Observational coding

Self-Regulatory Adaptable Desk – Led by Julie Daseking, Human Development and Design

Julie DasekingTitle: Self-Regulatory Adaptable Desk (Spring, 2021)

Description: A school desk designed to be adaptable to meet the learning needs of a wide range of learners. Specifically, desk affordances are intended to promote self-regulation and executive function skill development in K-12 students.

Abstract: Within a classroom environment, students are expected to maintain an optimal state of physiological arousal to engage in learning. Although students often utilize an array of self-regulatory behaviors to help stay well-regulated, such as rocking or standing, classroom seating is typically not designed with this in mind. For instance, a student who benefits from vestibular sensory input cannot easily rock their four-legged or attached-to-desk chair.

To help students meet their regulatory needs, this project focused on designing a desk that is adaptable to support self-regulation, focus, and executive function skill development in students with varying learning needs. The first step included conducting a comprehensive review of the literature on ER across populations and stages of development and exploring options for flexible classroom seating. Next, K-12 and college students, teachers, and parents volunteered to complete a 10-question survey to gather input on their seating preferences. The literature review and survey data were then used to inform the design and development of a “sensory friendly” desk for K-12 classrooms.

MTSS and UDL Frameworks with Teachers’ Attitudes, Knowledge, and Confidence in Teaching Students with Autism Project – Led by Dana Butler, Neurobiology and Behavior

Title: Investigating Whether Implementation of MTSS and UDL Frameworks Correlate to Teachers’ Attitudes, Knowledge, and Confidence in Teaching Students with Autism in Mainstream Classrooms (2019)

Description: We found that pre-service teachers who implemented Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) frameworks in their classrooms tended to have greater confidence and more positive attitudes when teaching students with autism. These findings are promising, as they indicate that MTSS and UDL frameworks may promote a positive shift toward inclusivity of neurodiversity in general education classrooms. 

Abstract: While an inclusive classroom may provide students with autism an opportunity to engage in learning opportunities with their peers, teachers often report feelings of low self-efficacy when teaching students with autism, resulting in higher teacher turnover and lower student academic success. The Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) frameworks that are currently implemented in CA teaching credential programs could help to address this problem. In this study, 30 K-12 preservice teachers, who were enrolled in the UC Davis Teacher Education program, completed a survey on their attitude and confidence toward teaching students with autism as well as their understanding and application of MTSS and UDL. We found that preservice teachers who used MTSS and UDL in their general education classrooms were more likely to have positive attitudes and greater self-confidence when working with students with autism. In addition, preservice teachers who reported positive attitudes toward students with autism also disclosed greater confidence when applying MTSS and UDL frameworks. 

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