Robert Mueller, a psychologist at Bowling Green Elementary School in East Meadow, has spent the past six years researching techniques to help parents of children with autism spectrum disorders.
Her work paid off last month when her findings were published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, a peer-reviewed academic journal published by Springer Sci-ence + Business Media.
Mueller, 35, of Commack, recently spoke with the Herald about his research paper titled “Positive Family Intervention for Children with ASD: Impact on Parent Cognitions and Stress.”
The goal of his research was to help parents combat negative thought patterns that can hamper their ability to help their children. When a child behaves badly, “Maybe we blame ourselves for our child’s behavior, or maybe we blame the child,” Mueller said, “and sometimes it makes us feel sad or depressed or in a state of mind. angry and resentful, and it might get in the way of what we want to do to help our children.
Mueller has a 4-year-old son, An-drew, and a 2-year-old daughter, Emily. He received a PhD from St. John’s University in 2015, when he began his research on his thesis under the supervision of Associate Professor Lauren Moskowitz, co-author of the research paper.
Moskowitz, 41, from Queens, has two daughters, Arabella, 6, and Nora, 1. When Arabella was born, her mother thought she would find it easy to be a parent through her work as a psychologist, she said. But some things are easier in theory.
âAnd that’s the hard part,â Moskowitz said, âbecause what bothers you is the emotion … You get that defeatist attitude, and then it might be hard for you to do the things you do. know how to operate. ”
This pattern of behavior has in many cases been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, when parents reported being more tired and stressed and feeling overloaded when working from home while helping their children learn from a distance, noted Moskowitz.
Mueller and Moskowitz turned to cognitive behavioral therapy, a technique developed by psychologist Aaron Beck in the 1960s to treat depression. As Mueller described it, cognitive behavioral therapy “helps parents identify some of their ways of thinking and change those ways of thinking, which can lead to changes in their feelings and actions.”
The researchers combined this approach with positive behavioral support, a strategy used to identify the causes of a child’s bad behavior and what actions might change it. For example, a child may refuse to do his class work because he is asking for the teacher’s attention. Positive behavioral support would include approaching him and quietly telling him what to do.
âKids misbehave because they want to get something or they want to avoid something,â Mueller said. âSometimes we understand the triggers or the benefits, but we always have a hard time implementing the right strategies because those thoughts get in our way. This intervention combines the two and makes them more complete.
By combining the two psychological models, Mueller and Mowkowitz turned to a hybrid theory called positive family intervention, first defined by psychologist Mark Durand in his 2008 book âHelping Families with Challenging Childrenâ. In it, Durand explored methods that parents of children with autism spectrum disorders could use to improve their relationship with them.
Mueller recruited three families through social media and outreach from the Nassau Suffolk Autism Society of America. From September 2014 to March 2015, he facilitated eight 90-minute sessions with families, observing how parents worked with their children on various activities and how things changed when they used the principles of positive family intervention.
Mueller found that the children behaved less badly as the sessions continued and that their parents, for the most part, felt better about themselves and their relationships with their children. âIt’s wonderful to see the progress that students could make with the right support system in place,â he said.
Moskowitz said she found their study useful for all parents and teachers, not just those of students with special needs. âThe fact that the results were as good as they were is amazing,â she said. “It is difficult for me, as a parent of neurotypical children, but it is infinitely more difficult for parents of autistic children, therefore the fact that success could have been achieved as far as it was with these three families is miraculous. “
Mueller first became involved in the field of autism and developmental disabilities in 2006, when he began working at the Developmental Disabilities Institute in Smithtown.
He graduated from Stony Brook University in 2008 and did an internship in the East Meadow School District, working with psychologists at Meadowbrook Elementary School. He was a psychological consultant for the district until 2012 when he was hired as a full-time psychologist at Bowling Green Elementary.
To access Mueller’s research paper, go to https://rdcu.be/b7tRi.