MCLA

Real-World Research

Students examine mysteries of autism


10/28/2009

As an MCLA student, Scott Greenberg '08 had the opportunity to study, live, and work at the New England Center for Children (NECC) in Southborough, MA, through an arrangement for cooperative learning set up by Dr. Thomas Byrne (left), an MCLA psychology professor.

Greenberg spent a semester at NECC, which is dedicated to treatment of children with autism. He was responsible for a group of nine autistic boys between the ages of 12 and 17. He experienced firsthand the course of treatment for autism and similar disorders.

In addition to participating in the center's research on non-contingent reinforcement, the internship exposed Scott to graduate-level courses through Northeastern University. And, throughout the experience, he attended two graduate courses that related to the field of applied behavioral analysis (ABA).

Greenberg is now enrolled in a master's program in this field at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA.

Other students who participated in the program include Jennifer Valera '08 and Nicole Mace '09, both of whom returned to NECC after graduation and are working on their master's degrees in applied behavioral analysis through Northeastern University.

According to Byrne, NECC is dedicated to a behavior-analytic approach. 

"Students must complete my behavior analysis courses prior to applying for the NECC
program," he explains. "We want to make sure they know what they are getting into. They
are going to be absorbed in behavior analysis full time for an entire semester."

Byrne says there is a great demand for people with this type of training, including undergraduate research.

"Laboratory-based research really hones students' skills in problem solving and analytical thinking," he says. "Students see the connections between basic research and application. Without the basic research that started decades ago, there
would be no effective treatment for autism."

Students from his research lab frequently present their findings at MCLA's annual Undergraduate Research Conference, as well as at national and international conferences for behavior analysis.

 "Research takes dedication and hard work, a fact the students experience by designing and conducting their own projects," Byrne says. "Our students are very invested in their work. It isn't unusual to see them hanging out in the labs between classes and putting in the extra effort."

In June, that extra effort paid off for Kara Gulotta '09 and Patrick Malloy '09. At the annual meeting for the Association for Behavior Analysis International held in Phoenix, AZ, they received authorship credit for research they completed on a new technique for studying motivation.