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Research Curriculum

Jenniffer Herrera, M.D., Fellow 2015 - 2018, with Susan Hyman, M.D., and Stephen Sulkes, M.D.

Fellows acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to design, implement, analyze, and report substantive research, and to become informed consumers of evidence-based literature.

Research topics in the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities include: autism, Down syndrome, health care delivery, and neurotoxicology. Research ranges from epidemiology, to behavioral and medical treatments, to evaluation of modes of care delivery. Members of our faculty hold national and state leadership positions involving these initiatives.

Opportunities exist for fellows to fulfill their research requirements while pursuing an advanced degree, such as Master of Public Health (M.P.H.). Ninety-five percent of tuition is covered by the University.

Recent research by developmental-behavioral pediatric fellows includes:

  • Genetic findings in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders
  • Relationship of iron deficiency and sleep problems in children with autism spectrum disorders
  • Seasonality of birth of children with autism spectrum disorders relative to neurologic comorbidities
  • Identification of developmental challenges in special populations (refugees, Latino, Deaf communities)

Other past and current trainee research has included examination of intake of omega 3 fatty acids, medical problems of adults with developmental disabilities, behavioral interventions for repetitive behaviors, and vaccine uptake among younger siblings of children with autism spectrum disorders. Our fellowship offers significant time and support for fellows to pursue their research in years 2 and 3.

Year 1

Fellows participate in research through the Leadership Evaluation in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program in the first year of fellowship and are mentored in developing their own research projects in years two and three. Each fellow identifies a research topic, selects a mentor, and formulates a research plan. A Scholarship Oversight Committee (SOC) is selected and consists of experts who guide and monitor research endeavors.  This interdisciplinary committee includes a primary mentor, another divisional faculty member, and a faculty member from outside the Department of Pediatrics. The curriculum addresses basic research methodology, statistical principles, and academic writing and presentation skills.

LEND faculty and fellows participate in interdisciplinary research team projects that focus on health care delivery and coordination for children with developmental disabilities and other special health care needs. Three ongoing multi-year research tracks are pursued:

Health Care Delivery for People with Developmental Disabilities

These projects track the impact of electronic information systems, such as electronic medical records (EMR), and of health screening and coordination efforts, on services to individuals with developmental disabilities and other special health care needs and their families. Studies have included surveys focusing on family and professional perspectives, reviews of Special Olympics screening activities, and quality improvement projects addressing safety.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

These projects have evaluated the special health care needs of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), their healthcare utilization, and the practices professionals use at the time of diagnosis. Recent projects have examined the medical screening for elopement and wandering of children and youth with autism spectrum disorders.

Transition-Age Youth with Developmental Disabilities

These projects have looked at the varying experiences of transition-age youth with physical and other developmental disabilities as they move from school to work, from home to independent living, and from the pediatric healthcare system to the system designed for adults.

Year 2

By the end of their second year, fellows are adept at research techniques, well-versed in the scientific method, able to critically read the scientific literature, and have a research project well underway.

Year 3

By the end of the third year, the project should be completed and a manuscript prepared. Fellows have the opportunity to present at a national meeting and submit for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Our research programs provide superb support so that trainees become comfortable with study design and execution.