Melanie Pellecchia, PhD, BCBA, NCSP
Assistant Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry

Dr. Pellecchia is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. She is a licensed clinical psychologist, Nationally Certified School Psychologist, and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Dr. Pellecchia’s clinical and research interests lie in improving the implementation of evidence-based treatments for children with autism spectrum disorders in under-served communities. She is an expert in delivering, and training others to deliver, high quality treatments for young children with autism. She has extensive experience developing and evaluating publicly-funded programs for children with autism spectrum disorder, and working with teachers, staff, and administrators to improve their implementation of evidence-based practices. Dr. Pellecchia’s research is focused on partnering with community-stakeholders to develop implementation strategies that are feasible, sustainable, and appropriate for use in community settings, and that increase the use of evidence-based intervention strategies. Her most recent body of work is centered around developing strategies to improve the implementation of parent coaching and successfully engaging parents of young children with autism in their child’s treatment.


Parent Empowerment and Coaching in Early Intervention (PEACE)

This four-year early career development award will use community-partnered research methods to iteratively develop and pilot test a toolkit of implementation strategies to increase early intervention providers’ use of parent coaching for families of young children with, or at risk for, autism spectrum disorder. The project will involve four phases: 1) observations of the use of parent coaching during usual practice; 2) interviews with providers, agency leaders, and parents to gather information about factors that influence their decisions to use parent coaching; 3) a community-partnered iterative development process to develop a toolkit of implementation strategies based on the findings from Phases 1 and 2; and 4) a pilot test of the toolkit’s feasibility and promise. The findings will inform a randomized field trial of the toolkit’s effectiveness in improving the use of parent coaching within early intervention.

Role: Principle Investigator
Funder: Institute of Education Sciences

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Autism Intervention Research for Behavioral Health:III - Mind the Gap Project

This study aims to address the critical need to increase access to care for under-resourced children with ASD and their families. Focus groups and interviews with parents of low-income, minority children with ASD across four different sites (UCLA, UC Davis, U Penn, and U Rochester) were used to better understand the challenges, barriers, and needs related to accessing services for children with ASD in the community. These data, paired with a Community-Partnered Participatory Research approach, led to the development of an intervention to help families initiate services, increase engagement and advocate for their child. The intervention is currently being evaluated through a randomized trial across all four sites. Dr. Pellecchia leads the Mind the Gap study for the University of Pennsylvania site.

Role: Co-Investigator
Funder: Health Resources and Services Administration

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Hall Mercer Community Mental Health Center Early Childhood Program

The Early Childhood Program at Hall Mercer Community Mental Health Center is a joint venture between the Center for Mental Health and Hall Mercer aimed at delivering high quality treatment to preschool-aged children with autism spectrum and related disorders. The Early Childhood program uses applied behavior analysis techniques to address the core deficits of autism spectrum disorder. Intervention is delivered in a small group format and emphasizes developing functional and social communication skills, play skills, and participation in classroom routines and activities. Each child’s interests and motivation serve as the platform for intervention delivered in an environment rich with opportunities for engagement.

Role: Psychologist

Randomized Trial of Project ImPACT

This 2-year project, funded by the Eagles Autism Foundation, will conduct a three-arm randomized field trial to evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of Project ImPACT within Philadelphia’s Infant and Toddler Early Intervention System. The results will provide rigorous information about whether evidence-based autism interventions for young children can be implemented successfully with the resources available in cities like Philadelphia, the role of hours of treatment in improving child outcomes, and the cost-benefit implications for families and community agencies. This project has the potential to dramatically improve the services families of young children with ASD in Philadelphia receive, and significantly improve their long-term outcomes. It also would serve as the foundation for an application for federal funds to conduct a system-wide study of Project ImPACT as implemented in all Philadelphia agencies serving children with ASD.

Role : Principal Investigator