Psychology students help children with developmental challenges get ready for preschool

FIU psychology students are providing one-on-one therapy to children who have or are at risk for developmental delays or disorders, including autism.

The program is called Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI). It’s an applied behavior analysis (ABA) program conducted at the FIU Center for Children and Families and designed to help children under three years of age develop the skills needed to succeed in preschool.

“We help children to adapt in a preschool classroom by designing our schedule in a similar manner to that commonly seen in preschool and kindergarten classrooms,” said Logan McDowell, assistant director of the program. “We have circle time, outside time, snack time and a variety of other typical activities interspersed with one-on-one therapy.”

McDowell is a first year doctoral student in the developmental science program. In August of 2012, psychology professors Maricel Cigales and Anibal Gutierrez, who are co-directors of the EIBI program, asked McDowell to take on the role of assistant director upon completion of her behavior analysis master’s degree.

“Logan was a perfect fit for our program,” Gutierrez said. “Her experience as a preschool teacher and knowledge of behavior analysis combined with her interest in autism, made Logan the right candidate for the job.”

During the spring semester, McDowell worked with a total of 15 students including seven undergraduate psychology majors with specialized training. Graduate students are responsible for designing individualized activities tailored to each child’s developmental needs. All students are paired with one child throughout the day to help them work on various tasks that focus on expressive and receptive communication as well as pre-academic, motor, play, social and self-care skills.

The EIBI classroom has seven individual work stations dedicated to instruction in a particular area of the curriculum. The student instructors use a visual schedule to assist the children in transitions between stations, as children with autism spectrum disorder frequently have trouble dealing with changes in routine.

The program facilitates much needed therapy for children with behavior challenges and provides a hands-on educational opportunity for students interested in pursuing careers in the fields of behavior analysis, psychology or education. Through their work at EIBI, students receive credit hours and field experience hours that can be used towards certification as a behavior analyst. They have the opportunity to learn about autism and other pervasive developmental disorders first-hand – even as undergrads – without ever having to leave the university.

“We ultimately hope to design an effective and easily comprehensible program through which young children diagnosed with or at risk for autism or other related disabilities can develop the skills needed to function successfully in a preschool setting and beyond,” McDowell said.

For information about the EIBI program, call 305-348-0477 or email


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