Emily Ferguson wins 2022 Fahs-Beck Fellowship

Wednesday, February 16, 2022
Emily Ferguson

Emily Ferguson, a doctoral candidate in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Counseling, Clinical & School Psychology, has been awarded a 2022 Fahs-Beck Doctoral Dissertation Grant. This grant is funded by the Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation and the New York Community Trust. It will support Ferguson’s dissertation, titled Service Needs and Priorities for Adolescents and Adults with Autism Support Needs: A Mixed Methods Study.

“I’m passionate about improving services and increasing access to appropriate services for individuals with profound autism throughout the lifespan,” Ferguson says. “This grant supports my line of research to support a population that has been traditionally underrepresented in autism research.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by challenges with social interaction and communication, along with restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. Recent estimates indicate that 30-40% of individuals diagnosed with ASD have co-occurring Intellectual Disability (ID). Individuals with ASD and ID often experience heightened challenges across a range of behaviors and skills and require substantial, lifelong support. Despite these lifelong challenges, there are limited evidence-based practices (EBPs) to support these individuals throughout the transitions of adolescence and into adulthood. To date, no published studies have systematically gathered information from caregivers of adolescents and adults with ASD and ID about their service needs and priorities to develop appropriate intervention services for this population.

To address the urgent need to gather information from caregivers to develop and disseminate appropriate services, the aims of Ferguson’s study are to: 1) Characterize the clinical profiles of autistic adolescents and adults with ID, including demographic variables, language level, and standardized measures of adaptive functioning and emotional regulation; 2) Identify patterns of caregiver-reported met and unmet service needs (e.g., social skills training), barriers to service access (e.g., no service providers in area), and service component priorities (e.g., decreasing aggressive behaviors) through quantitative and qualitative reports; and 3) Determine if language level, emotion regulation, adaptive functioning level, age, race/ ethnicity, and family socioeconomic predict unmet service needs for this population.

Emily Ferguson is a fourth-year student in the clinical psychology emphasis of the Gevirtz School working with Dr. Ty Vernon. Her research interests include the design and dissemination of interventions that are uniquely tailored to meet the needs of children and adults with autism and high support needs (or profound autism) in a variety of settings. She is also interested in developing methods to teach emotion regulation skills to autistic individuals with a range of verbal and cognitive levels.

The primary goal of the Fahs-Beck Fund is to support research that contributes to a greater understanding of and solutions for problems affecting individuals, families, and communities. The Fahs-Beck Fund is now part of The New York Community Trust’s coordinated social work education, practice, and policy grant program.

[Emily Ferguson is available for interviews; contact George Yatchisin at george@education.ucsb.edu]