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Heather J. Nuske, PhD
Research Assistant Professor

Heather Joy Nuske, PhD is a Research Assistant Professor of Psychiatry in the Penn Center for Mental Health, University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Nuske’s research is dedicated to understanding how best to support individuals with autism manage their emotions and stress in community settings where it matters most. She is particularly interested in the use of digital technologies to improve implementation of evidence-based interventions for individuals with neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, with a focus on school-based interventions that target emotion regulation, mental health and social and emotional learning in children with autism. She also studies the developmental and physiological precursors to emotional difficulties and the impact of emotion dysregulation on school/employment readiness, community participation, challenging behavior/mental illness and social inequities and inequalities. Dr. Nuske has 7 years’ experience as an Applied Behavioral Analysis therapist with children and adolescents with autism. Her inspiration for research comes from the many wonderful individuals with autism she has worked with and from her little brother, who has autism. Dr Nuske holds a Bachelor of Psychological Science with 1st class Honors and PhD in Psychology from La Trobe University, Australia.

KeepCalm App: Supporting Emotion Regulation in Children with Autism

Three significant barriers limit current approaches to managing challenging behaviors in children with autism: 1) triggers of emotion dysregulation may go undetected without specialized training because children with autism often have difficulty with emotion expression; 2) teachers must attend to multiple, concurrent demands and may not recall the emotion regulation strategies to be used in the moment of crisis, and; 3) teachers may not have training/time to analyze data on the most effective emotion regulation strategies for each child so that they can make informed decisions regarding future intervention programming. Our KeepCalm app is designed to address these barriers by: 1) communicating children’s stress to their teachers using heart rate signaling; 2) supporting implementation of emotion regulation strategies via smartphone pop-up notifications of top strategies for each child, and 3) easing the burden of tracking outcomes by providing the child’s education team with a tool to track the most effective emotion regulation strategies for that child. Every step of the KeepCalm app development process is in partnership with educators and families of children with autism.


Learn more:

Role: Principle Investigator

Funder: NIMH, McMorris Autism Initiative

Mechanism: K01

Autism Intervention Research - Behavioral Health (AIR-B3)

This project includes the development and testing of two interventions, Mind the Gap, a parent engagement and empowerment intervention for parents of children with autism, and Building Better Bridges, a school transition intervention for education teams of children with autism. Development of the intervention is with community partners and with four other academic sites, UCLA, UC Davis, Drexel University and University of Rochester.

Role: Parent coach, Parent peer supervisor, Community outreach
Funder: HRSA

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App for Strengthening Services in Specialized Therapeutic Support (ASSISTS)

P50 Project 2 leverages normative pressure and social status to increase data collection among community mental health workers providing support to children with autism. We will use a novel approach using digital technology to address the challenge that one-to-one aides generally work in the community with little supervision or opportunity for feedback. This technology will deliver an inexpensive social incentive that could have broad implications for aides in health care more broadly, who represent the fastest growing segment of the health care workforce.

Role: Co-lead
Funder: NIMH
Mechanism: P50

Measuring Bodily Emotional Stress (MBES) Study

Exciting new wearable technologies have the potential to revolutionize psychophysiology research but rigorous benchmarking of this technology against gold standard equipment is limited. This project compares the data quality of consumer grade wearable physiological recording devices that measure heart rate responses (indices of emotional stress) with standard traditionally-used wired devices, and examines the applicability of wearables for use with children with autism (i.e. wearability, comfort level). The findings from this study will inform methodologies used in future studies to measure physiological stress in children with autism in community settings.

Role: Penn site Principle Investigator
Funder: McMorris Autism Initiative, Foerderer

Biofeedback-Informed Relaxation Training (NeuroFlow)

Evidence-based treatments of anxiety focus on relaxation as a key component of treatment, but use metaphor and imagery as instructional techniques which are not well suited to individuals with autism who commonly think literally and struggle with abstract representation. Use of biofeedback (EEG, ECG) could potentially facilitate stress-reduction exercises through objective moment-to-moment feedback about relaxation states. The primary research goal is to determine the usability, implementation, and comfort level of a biofeedback system, NeuroFlow, for adults or youth with autism and clinical anxiety.

Role: Principle Investigator
Funder: NeuroFlow