Sharing research on optimal child development techniques

May 4, 2012 by cpehrson

At Utah State University’s Sunrise Sessions, faculty and students share their research with USU alumni, community and business leaders and the public from the Salt Lake area. Held quarterly in downtown Salt Lake City, these early-morning presentations  inform listeners about world-leading research n diverse fields.

On June 8th, at the Little America Hotel, 500 South Main Street Salt Lake City, the CPD’s own Vonda Jump will be presenting her research on “Optimal Child Development.” Her presentation begins at 7:30 a.m.

A woman sitting on the ground in front of a camel

Dr. Jump has spent years investigating how critical early positive interactions with infants and young children is in creating optimal brain development, particularly in alternative caregiving environments, such as foster care or orphanages.  She has traveled extensively in Ecuador, Haiti, India, and Russia, training orphanage caregivers about the importantance of providing  positive early interactions with the young children there.

Their stories break your heart. Babies abandoned because they are the wrong gender. Toddlers given away when another new mouth comes into the family. Infants struggling to survive after they’ve lost both parents. “We can’t change their stories, but we can give them hope and a fighting chance,” says Vonda Jump, senior research associate at the Center for Persons with Disabilities’ Research and Evaluation Division. It is her belief in that notion that has led her to create and teach relationship-based intervention programs, including infant massage, in orphanages in some of the world’s neediest countries.

At the Sunrise Session, Jump will be talking about specific types of interactions that promote brain development in infants, such as talking, touching, showing them toys/objects. According to her research, it takes only simple interactions to make a positive difference in the brain development of infants and young children.

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Research on play: Dads and moms both contribute to education success

March 9, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

father and son at playgroundResults from a 15-year study out of  the Family, Consumer and Human Development Department at Utah State University show that the way parents play with their toddlers predicts their children’s academic success. These findings are getting national recognition. So far, stories have appeared in the TodayMoms blog, Education Week’s Early Years blog and Medical News Today –with more coverage likely to follow. Update: add Parents Magazine,’s Red-Hot Prenting blog, Modern Home Modern BabyKSL and the Deseret News to the list.

We’re proud to say that the researchers have ties to the Center for Persons with Disabilities. Kudos to Dr. Gina Cook, who works here at the CPD’s Interdisciplinary Training division. Congratulations also to Faculty Fellows Lisa Boyce and Lori Roggman, both of FCHD.

Here’s the press release:

15-Year Study Shows Positive Connection Between How Parents Play with Toddlers and Their Children’s Academic Success

  •  229 Children from Low-Income Families Across the Nation were Studied as Part of this Research
  • Mothers Do More Teaching With Their Child When the Biological Father is a Resident in the Home

 LOGAN, UT (March 6, 2012) – Results from a 15-year research project show that the ways in which fathers and mothers play with children at age two predicts their children’s future academic outcomes.

Among the highly stimulating activities parents engaged in that were shown to have a positive impact on children’s later academic performance are:

a mom and boy pull faces

  • Encouraging and engaging in pretend play
  • Presenting activities in an organized sequence of steps
  • Elaborating on the pictures, words, and actions in a book or on unique attributes of objects
  • Relating play activity or book text to the child’s experience

Since 1996, researchers from Utah State University’s department of Family, Consumer and Human Development (FCHD) have studied families enrolled in the “U.S. Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project” to determine the range of influence early parent-child engagement has on later academic achievements.

“There has been extensive research done on the importance of early parent-child interactions on future educational experiences, but most have focused on the relationship with the mother,” said Gina Cook, FCHD research assistant professor. “Our study looked at the combined long-term impacts of both maternal and paternal interactions in those critical stages of early development, and discovered that children not only benefit from the interactions they have with their mothers, but also their fathers.”

Observations of mother-toddler and father-toddler interactions in 229 low-income families made at age 2 were examined in relation to child outcomes at age 3 and then again in the 5th grade. The researchers looked at two different family types, those with resident biological fathers and those without, and found that in both these family situations, children perform better academically when mothers teach more during play with their toddlers. When resident biological fathers teach during play with their toddlers, they make an additional positive contribution to their child’s 5th grade math and reading performance on top of the mother’s play, the child’s gender, and participation in the Early Head Start Program.

The study determined that these biological fathers weren’t actually stimulating their children’s brains more than the fathers in other family situations. Rather, the research indicates that in homes with both biological parents, the mother provided higher levels of cognitive stimulation with the toddlers, and those fathers contributed to later academic outcomes above and beyond mothers.

“Interestingly, when the biological father is living with the mother and child, mothers provide more cognitive stimulation to their toddlers, but it is the fathers in only these families who really add something more to their children’s early environments,” added Cook. “It is important for parents to engage with their children during the vital, early stages of brain development, because that early exposure to cognitive stimulation with both mothers and fathers can have a long-lasting and positive influence on the educational success of at-risk children.”

The FCHD department is part of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at Utah State University. Results from this study will be published in an upcoming special issue on fathers in the Family Science journal.

About the College of Education and Human Services

 The Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at Utah State University is committed to offering high quality graduate and undergraduate programs in education and human services that are innovative and widely accessible. The college is also dedicated to establishing and maintaining nationally visible research centers that advance knowledge and professional practices. For more information, visit   For press contacts, scroll down.

A father in army fatigues hugs his son

 Press Contact:

Jacob Moon

Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services Public Relations



Amanda Butterfield

Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services Public Relations




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CPD partners in research to improve emergency evacuations

October 18, 2011 by JoLynne Lyon

A sign reads, "In case of fire use exit stairways."

Existing computer models that building engineers use to develop escape plans are based on a bunch of able-bodied young adults.

It’s time for a more accurate model. And thanks to a $600,000 interdisciplinary grant, Utah State University researchers will develop one that accounts for the estimated one-fifth of Americans who have limited physical mobility.

The research will simulate emergency evacuations for those with physical disabilities or stamina impairment, using data gathered through high-tech means. Radio frequency identification and video tracking will catch and observe the exact movement of real pedestrians.

The project will measure their behavior in normal circumstances and under an evacuation scenario. The team will then look at how those with disabilities walk, the speed at which they move and how they react when put in close contact with others. The project will take approximately three years, and it builds on prior research.

“There are differences in behavior in people who are different from one another. In an evacuation, these small differences can have a big effect,” said Keith Christensen in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune last week. Christensen is a CPD faculty fellow, an associate professor in the Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning Department, and a co-principal administrator of the grant. He continued: “We need to understand how people with disabilities behave in an evacuation, and we need to understand how people without disabilities behave with them.”

(The Trib’s article includes information from Andrew Riggle of the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake. Check it out if you can—it’s a good read.)

When the project concludes in fall 2013, the team will provide its findings to companies and engineers who create evacuation plans for new buildings around the nation, improving the safety and welfare of those with disabilities.

The CPD is one of three university research centers participating in the grant. Christensen said the CPD will cooperate in recruiting participants, arranging experimental facilities, and working on feedback and evaluation. Other partners include the Center for Self-Organizing and Intelligent Systems and the Utah Transportation Center.  Also involved are researchers in USU’s College of Agriculture and the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business.

Prior to joining the faculty of the Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning Department, Keith Christensen worked as a research scientist with the CPD. There he explored the relationship between design and social access, social values, human rights and social justice.

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Autism Reauthorization bill awaits President’s signature

September 27, 2011 by cpehrson

Last night, the United States Senate passed the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) as one of its last acts before going on recess. It is now awaiting President Obama’s signature.

Extending this law allows the autism research, education, and early identification efforts begun in 2006 to continue, reauthorizing $693 million for the next three years, something that advocates feared might be gone by the end of next week.

“Reauthorizing the Combating Autism Act is a crucial step towards advancing our knowledge on autism.  We are now able to ensure research programs continue finding breakthroughs in diagnosis and treatment, and that training and intervention programs continue providing families the tools they need to better understand and manage this increasingly prevalent affliction,” U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said.

The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) network members worked along side legislators, family members, advocates, and autism and disability organizations to inform Congress about the importance of continuing these important autism-related activities.  Their hard work helped make this reauthorization possible.

Several CPD projects focus on autism research, training, diagnosis, and intervention, including the ABC early intervention classroom, the ASSERT preschool classroom, Early Markers for Autism Biomedical research project, and the ASD Interdisciplinary Clinic.

The CPD is part of the AUCD’s national network of University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs).

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New Year, new title, new day program supervisor for CPD’s adult program

January 6, 2011 by JoLynne Lyon

Day program supervisor Dauri Bastian, right, works with BRASC participant Heidi Hill last year.

The Bear River Activity and Skill Center is now the Developmental Skills Laboratory, or DSL. Program Coordinator Drake Rasmussen said the change reflects the DSL’s relationship with Utah State University.

The DSL program is designed to support adults with relatively severe disabilities by training and maintaining the skills necessary for their greatest independence. In addition, it provides participants with activities that encourage their inclusion into the community.

Its name change underscores the program’s role as a place for research and real world experience. Students in both speech and music therapy come regularly to work with DSL participants and receive training in a real environment. The DSL is also the setting for graduate-level behavioral research.

In addition to the name change, the DSL welcomes its new day program supervisor. Dauri Bastian has worked at BRASC for three years and will now replace Suzanne Wiser.

“” I want to help each individual participant reach his or her full potential by creating a warm and inviting environment,” said Bastian. She plans to focus on social relationships and learning activities.

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