PhD Program Focuses on Mental Health and Development Disabilities

By Ira Glovinsky, PhD

The Infant and Early Childhood Development at Fielding Graduate University is presently the only program in the world that offers a Ph.D. in Infant and Early Childhood Development with an emphasis on mental health and developmental disabilities.

The program is the result of the work by Stanley Greenspan, M.D., and Serena Wieder, PhD, who initially developed the Interdisciplinary Council for Developmental and Learning Disorders (ICDL). ICDL is an organization focusing on training professionals from many disciplines in a multi-disciplinary framework to work with children with developmental disorders—particularly children on the autism spectrum.

Professionals from the fields of mental health, education, occupational therapy, speech and language, nursing, music therapy, physical therapy, and other disciplines have come into the program to broaden their knowledge, develop a holistic view of children and their families, and to develop a multi-disciplinary lens to assess and treat children with developmental disabilities.

The doctoral research that students do is varied with a focus on autism spectrum disorders. Dissertations have included a Developmentally-Based, Individual Differences, Relationship-based (DIR®) framework to treating young children with autism.

One student completed her work by training parents of children in Barbados to be more reflective with their children and to use the DIR® model. Parents became more aware and attuned to their children’s needs, and as the parents became more reflective there were significant improvements in their child’s overall functioning.

One student wrote her dissertation on the use of humour in therapy with children on the autism spectrum. The literature on the use of humour in treating children with autism was highly unique as many people in the field feel that children on the autism spectrum do not understand humour. This dissertation clearly showed that humour was a “portal of entry” into the treatment process.

Another looked at communication skills in children with autism focusing on pre-verbal communication.

Our program is an international program and an exciting dissertation that is being done in Hong Kong is looking at depressed mothers and their autistic children. The focus of this study is the effect of maternal depression on the development of very young children with autism.

The work is “cutting edge” and providing insights into the field of autism spectrum disorders. We are very excited about developing training programs that will help professionals across the globe understand the problems that interrupt development and learning in autism spectrum disorders, and provide a model for teachers and educators that will enable them to develop skills to make learning experiences for children on the spectrum who evidence emotion dysregulation optimal and successful.

Originally published in the Autism Developmental Approach Therapies Newsletter, Spring 2017

Faculty member Dr. Ira Glovinsky is a clinical psychologist in Ann Arbor, Michigan, specializing in autism spectrum disorders, an Expert DIR/Floortime Practitioner, and a Clinical Consultant to ICDL.