The American Psychological Foundation (APF) Koppitz Fellowship Program gave three child psychology graduate students a huge boost last year when it awarded each of them $20,000 fellowships.
ADHD AND AUTISM
Koppitz winner Brian Wymbs, a clinical psychology graduate student at the University at Buffalo of the State University of New York, devised a first-of-its-kind study that manipulates child behavior (using child actors) to examine attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder's effect on parental interaction.
Wymbs' preliminary findings show that parents act less supportive of each other during interactions with children who act disruptively than during interactions with children who act typically. He sees his research as laying the groundwork for future observational studies in more naturalistic settings, and he'd eventually like to design interventions to help couples parent children with ADHD.
Yale University neuroscience graduate student Warren Jones uses eye-tracking technology to map what captures the attention of 2-year-old children with autism as they view movies of social interaction. He has found that when typically developing children watch scenes of other people, they spend most of their time looking at people's eyes. However, autistic children tend to be attracted to the mouths of people who are talking and to objects in the background. Jones hopes his research will help with early diagnosis of autistic children.
'IT SAVED MY EDUCATION'
Natalie Costa lost her home and all her possessions during Hurricane Katrina. Without funding from the Koppitz fellowship, her research and career plans would have been two more things lost to the storm, says Costa, who this spring will finish her applied developmental psychology doctoral program at the University of New Orleans (UNO).
Costa, a New Orleans native, began a study in 2002 to examine the social and contextual variables that underlie the relationship between maternal and child anxiety. Costa recruited 250 families and had parents complete questionnaires on such topics as their anxiety and depression levels, beliefs about their parenting and past traumas. Parents also completed a questionnaire describing their child's. Children answered questions about their parents, took an intelligence test and received a skin conductance test to gauge their response to a movie of a threatening dog.
"I was supposed to be extending this study to look at over-time variables," says Costa. "But then the hurricane hit, and everything changed." Costa's study families were all from areas of New Orleans that were completely devastated, she says. After the hurricane, they scattered throughout the country. Costa applied for the Koppitz fellowship for funding to help find her families and continue her study.
"We had a unique opportunity in that we had predisaster functioning variables on them, which in any kind of natural disaster literature is a pretty rare thing," she says.
Costa changed the focus of her study to how parental and youth anxiety, control and attachment interact with pre-Katrina anxiety levels to predict responses to natural disasters. She located and now is conducting phone interviews with two thirds of her surviving participants.
Costa hopes that the data she's collected will help identify factors that make certain people more vulnerable to anxiety and post-traumatic stress, so that they can be taught resilience and coping skills before a natural disaster occurs.
Five runners-up for the Koppitz fellowship awards each received $4,000 travel stipends to attend APA's 2007 Annual Convention in San Francisco. They are: Anne Shaffer, of the University of Minnesota; Russell Carleton, of DePaul University; Vanessa Simmering, of the University of Iowa; Ryan Beveridge, of the University of Utah; and Sujin Yang, of Cornell University.
For information on applying, visit APA Awards/Koppitz.