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 and Director of the Digital Mental Health @ Penn working group. Dr. Nuske’s research is dedicated to utilizing digital mental health technologies to support the implementation of evidence-based practices for individuals with neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders. A particular area of research focus is on measuring and supporting emotion regulation in children on the autism spectrum, using digital mental health platforms combined with wearable biosensors (e.g., heart rate trackers) and intervention approaches such as behavioral interventions, social and emotional learning programs, mindfulness-based approaches and emotion regulation training. She uses community-partnered participatory research and user-centered design methods and conducts mixed-method randomized controlled trials to answer implementation- and efficacy/effectiveness-related questions about the digital mental health technologies and interventions. Dr. Nuske also studies the developmental and physiological precursors to emotional difficulties and the impact of emotion dysregulation on challenging behavior, mental illness, school/employment readiness, and community participation and inclusion. Dr. Nuske has 7 years’ experience working as an Applied Behavioral Analysis therapist with children and adolescents with autism. Her inspiration for research comes from the many wonderful individuals on the autism spectrum 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 Psychological Science (Experimental/Developmental) 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: https://reporter.nih.gov/search/z8_EPVGaYUmYoQO0FVziPA/project-details/9977382


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

Learn more: http://prugal.com/about-us/the-pacts-grant/

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