Jasmyn Ledford, Doctoral Student in Psychology, Researching Autism Spectrum Disorder
By Anastasia Tamali
Interview with Jasmyn Ledford, Doctoral Student in Psychology
Q: Where are you from?
Ledford: I am from Old Bridge, New Jersey.
Q: What influenced you to choose your current field of study?
Ledford: I graduated from Hampton University in 2012 with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology. I knew early on that I loved psychology and that I would eventually pursue my doctorate in the field. Upon graduating from Hampton, I was accepted into the Teach for America Greater Newark 2012 Corps. I moved back home and taught for three years at Roseville Community Charter School in Newark, New Jersey.
While I was teaching, I fell in love with my classroom and with the school environment in general. After receiving my teaching certification, I obtained my Master's Degree in Educational Leadership, Management and Policy from Seton Hall University in 2015. I never realized the impact psychologists had on the school environment until my very last classroom, which utilized the inclusion model. My classroom had a mixture of general education students and students requiring specialized instruction based on a special education classification. This experience helped me find the perfect combination of my true passions: School Psychology.
School psychologists are uniquely qualified members of school teams that support students' ability to learn and teachers' ability to teach. They apply expertise in mental health, learning, and behavior, to help children and youth succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally. School psychologists partner with families, teachers, school administrators, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that strengthen connections between home, school, and the community. Immediately following my master's graduation, I started my School Psychology doctoral journey at Howard University in the fall of 2015.
Q: Could you tell us about your dissertation?
Ledford: As a third-year doctoral student, I am in the process of completing my dissertation proposal. My research involves utilizing a function-based behavioral intervention to reduce self-injurious behaviors in students with autism spectrum disorder. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that affects the brain's normal development.
Children with ASD have difficulties with social communication and interaction. They also have narrow interests and repetitive behaviors. Utilizing principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, will identify children who exhibit self-injurious behaviors (SIB) primarily to receive attention from an adult (parent/teacher/caregiver). The procedure will involve an "attention ready" card, which will have a green color on one side and a red color on the other. The teacher will wear this card around his/her neck and only provide attention to the student while the card is on green. If any SIB occurs, the card will be switched to red, and the child will receive no desired attention. Interactions will only ensue if the child needs prevention from harming himself/herself or from harming others.
Research shows that the appropriate delivery of reinforcement (providing attention when SIB is not occurring) will encourage self-regulatory behaviors and a decrease in self-injurious behaviors.
Q: Tell us briefly about the theoretical framework in developing your research.
Ledford: Behavior Analysis follows the principles and theories of B. F. Skinner. Skinnerian Theory consists of concepts that express empirical functional relationships between behavioral and environmental variables. Simply put, I am following the framework of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA is a set of principles that form the basis for many behavioral treatments. ABA is based on the science of learning and behavior. ABA therapy applies these laws to behavior treatments in a way that helps to increase useful or desired behaviors. ABA also applies these laws to help reduce behaviors that may interfere with learning or behaviors that may be harmful.
Q: How would you explain the broader significance of your research?
Ledford: I currently work part time as a Behavioral Therapist. My clients are children with developmental disabilities, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and I am often privy to the many difficulties that come with the disorder. Children on the spectrum can exhibit challenging or aberrant behaviors, which put a strain on both the classroom and home environments.
Problem behaviors include those behaviors that interfere with an individual's ability to function and often have the potential to cause harm or damage, such as physical aggression, verbal aggression, property destruction, tantrums, and self-injurious behaviors (SIBs). SIB refers to a class of behaviors which the individual inflicts upon him/herself that have the potential to result in physical injury, more specifically tissue damage. Examples of SIB may include head banging, self-cutting, self-choking, self-biting, self-scratching, hair pulling, hand mouthing, and many others. In extremely severe cases, SIB can cause irreversible injury or death, if the behavior is not stopped.
For this reason, I have chosen to focus entirely on behavioral interventions that can reduce, or even terminate, this behavior.
Q: What audiences are you addressing? What are some of the books or who are some of the scholars in your field? How does your work compare with theirs?
Ledford: Anyone in the field of special education is my audience. This could include other psychologists, researchers, parents, children, teachers, administrators, behavioral therapists, and the list continues. My research could potentially improve a behavioral treatment plan for a student exhibiting self-injurious behaviors; that is my goal.
Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., is a doctoral-level psychologist with areas of study in school psychology, child development and neuropsychology. He is licensed as a psychologist and certified as a developmental disabilities evaluator in the state of Utah. Dr. Goldstein has authored, co-authored or edited 42 clinical and trade publications, including 16 text books dealing with managing children's behavior in the classroom, genetics, autism, attention disorders, resilience and adult learning disabilities. Jack A. Naglieri, Ph.D., is a Research Professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, Senior Research Scientist at the Devereux Center for Resilient Children and Emeritus Professor of Psychology at George Mason University. Dr. Naglieri is the author or co-author of more than 300 scholarly papers, books and tests. His scholarly research includes investigations related to exceptionalities such as mental retardation, specific learning disabilities, giftedness and Attention Deficit Disorder; psychometric studies of tests such as the Wechsler Scales of Intelligence, Cognitive Assessment System and the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children; examination of race, gender and ethnic differences in cognitive processing, and many more.
These scholars are distant mentors to me, as they have captured all my research interests in their various publications. I utilize their handbooks on executing functioning and interventions for autism spectrum disorder to discern and evaluate my own practices and written works.
Q: Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
Ledford: In five years, I will have graduated with my Ph.D. in School Psychology and completed my coursework/board exam to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. As a School Psychologist and BCBA, I hope to be working in a clinically based setting that partners with nearby schools. I plan to continue my work with the special needs population, more specifically students with developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder.
In addition, I hope to become a licensed psychologist and eventually open my own private practice, providing services to lower-income families with children on the spectrum, or having other severe developmental disabilities.
Q: If you get more than one job offer, how will you decide between them?
Ledford: Simply, I will pick the position that will satisfy my expectations professionally, provide room for growth, and allow for individuality.
Q: How will you go about revising your dissertation for publication?
Ledford: I am currently not at that stage in my academic career. However, looking ahead, I will utilize my committee and provide whatever additions/revisions are suggested prior to submitting for publication.
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