This Semester I'm Working On ... Researching Autism and Parental Stress

This story is the first installment of "This Semester I'm Working On," a new series that offers a glimpse at the UT experience, as told by students, faculty and staff. Follow the series to see what Longhorns are passionately pursuing during their time on campus.

Kassandra Martinez

"I think my upbringing will help bring a unique view to research," says Martinez, pictured in the Child Development in Context Lab, where she has worked since the spring semester of her freshman year. 

Name: Kassandra Martinez

Major: Psychology, with a minor in Human Development and Family Sciences (HDFS)

Year: Senior, graduating in December 2015

Involved in: Texas Interdisciplinary Plan, Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate School Internship, Bridging Disciplines Program, Women in Psychology

This semester I'm working on my honors thesis, which is in the preliminary stages. I'm researching how Spanish-speaking mothers of children with autism experience and cope with parenting stress.

I'm interested in autism and early childhood intervention, and my thesis topic has been influenced a lot by my past internships and research experience. I interned at a nonprofit called Growing Roots, where I helped facilitate an autism course for parents in Spanish. A lot of the moms shared stories about how they coped and their day-to-day struggles. That personal testimony influenced my research questions.

"I want to use my education and cultural background to be an advocate for these families."

I think it's important to look at this population because a lot of times research participants are primarily middle- to upper socioeconomic status and primarily Caucasian. I'm from a small town near El Paso called San Elizario that is primarily Mexican American, and I think my upbringing will help bring a unique view to research. Instead of someone going out and reading about Mexican culture, I have that knowledge already. I want to use my education and cultural background to be an advocate for these families.

My goal is to go to graduate school for clinical psychology, so in addition to my classes, I'm working in two research labs. One lab is called Project Seed, with HDFS Associate Professor Su Yeong Kim, where I primarily do home visits with English-speaking children who translate for their Spanish-speaking parents. Then I also work six hours a week in the Child Development in Context Lab, (CDCL) directed by A. Rebecca Neal-Beavers, a psychology research scientist. For the CDCL I code videos of parent-and-child play sessions that are in Spanish. I'm also helping a graduate student with another research project and am co-authoring a paper with her.

At the end of the semester I hope to be able to submit my research proposal to the institutional review board and get it approved so that I can start collecting data this summer.

UT home page photo of the College of Liberal Arts Building by Sandy Carson.