Stephanie Gerow, Ph.D., learned early in her academic studies that children with developmental disabilities are often excluded from classroom activities and learning because of their problem behaviors. These behaviors are frequently the result of inherent communication challenges faced by children with developmental disabilities. Gerow now researches, develops, evaluates and disseminates interventions to reduce problem behavior.
“What I try to do with my research is identify the most effective ways to teach children how to communicate instead of engage in problem behavior, and I train other people to do those interventions,” said Gerow, assistant professor of special education in Baylor’s Department of Educational Psychology.
An intervention is a strategy designed to address challenging behavior that impedes a child’s day-to-day functioning, such as social interactions, completion of daily life tasks or academic opportunities. Problem behavior can include screaming, crying, hitting, self-injury, and throwing or destroying items. After identifying the motivation behind a problem behavior, Gerow designs interventions to teach the child to communicate rather than engage in problem behavior — such as helping a child learn how to ask for a break from homework rather than pull his or her hair.
Gerow said, “I became interested working with children in all capacities, but problem behavior and communication are the really big focuses of my clinical work and research.”
Gerow recently worked on two clinical single-case research studies. In single-case research, each child acts as his or her own control. Each child is compared to himself at different points in time. One of Gerow’s recent studies involved parents of children with autism, age 3-8 years old, examining parent-implemented assessment and treatment for problem behavior. Typically, behavior analysts assess a child to identify the motivation of the child’s problem behavior and then create an intervention to change behavior, which they also teach parents.
There are relatively few studies that include parents in the initial evaluation and assessment of the problem behavior. Because children often act differently around their parents, Gerow wanted to include parents in the whole process. Gerow found that it’s possible to include parents from the beginning and that it leads to effective interventions with children who have problem behaviors. But Gerow identified a need for more research on the efficacy of parent-implemented assessments.
For her dissertation research, Gerow extended her first clinical study to younger children who have yet to be diagnosed with a disability but are behind in development and display problem behavior. Again, parents implemented both the assessment and treatment for the problem behavior. In this study, she evaluated whether parents, after training, could apply the intervention to new situations without assistance from her. Gerow is continuing her research in parent training for young children with developmental delays through a collaboration with Waco’s Klaras Children’s Center for Early Childhood Intervention.
“We want our parents to be able to handle problem behaviors across all situations — in the home, on the playground, at Walmart, at Chuy’s — all these places,” Gerow said.
Gerow first developed an interest in children with disabilities while working with them during a summer camp in high school. During her undergraduate experience as a psychology major at Davidson College, she learned about interventions and how psychology could affect a child’s academic performance.
“I learned that I could actually work with children as a career and do this thing that I love, which is spending time with children with disabilities, but also helping children with disabilities,” Gerow said.
It was at Davidson where Gerow also first encountered the field of behavior analysis. She obtained her master’s degree and Ph.D. from Texas A&M University. She also earned her accreditation as a BCBA (Board Certified Behavioral Analyst).
Gerow joined the faculty in Baylor’s School of Education in fall 2016. She conducts research at Baylor’s Clinic for Assessment, Research and Education (CARE), where she researches ways to create robust interventions to help children continue communicating without reverting back to problem behaviors. Gerow teaches courses in the Department of Educational Psychology. After developing her skills as a professional and an educator, Gerow finds herself in a job she thoroughly enjoys.
“I get to train students who are going to go out and work with kids. I also get to evaluate how we can develop and disseminate interventions that are going to be effective in the real world for children who are not currently getting access to effective interventions,” Gerow said.
—By Molly Meeker