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Release: Sept. 29, 1999

Wacker receives award from American Psychological Association

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa Health Care specialist has received one of his profession's highest honors for his efforts to help families of children with developmental disabilities who have severe behavior problems.

David P. Wacker, Ph.D., professor of pediatric psychology at University Hospital School, received the award from his peers in the American Psychological Association (APA). The 10,000-member association is the primary professional organization for psychologists in the United States.

The Applied Research Award for Outstanding Contributions to Applied Behavioral Research is awarded annually by the members of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior division of the APA. The award is based upon contributions made throughout the member's career.

Wacker attributes his reception of the award to his study of how to assess and treat behavior problems among children with developmental disabilities. "We took a systematic, longitudinal approach to carefully study techniques used to assess and treat these children," Wacker said. "The assessments we developed are now being used in many clinics in both the United States and Europe."

For example, University College at Dublin started using the assessments developed by Wacker last year following approval by the Irish Health Board.

"The assessment techniques developed by Dr. Wacker have changed the way that severe behavior problems, such as aggression and self-injury, can be assessed in both the outpatient and home settings," said Lynn Richman, Ph.D., UI professor of pediatrics. "His approach represents a blend of basic and applied research that was necessary to show the underlying basic principles for the assessments, and then to demonstrate their effectiveness in actually assessing behavioral problems among these children."

"Dr. Wacker's efforts have been instrumental in helping families cope with behavioral problems exhibited by children with developmental disabilities," said Frank Morriss, M.D., UI professor and head of pediatrics and medical director of the Children's Hospital of Iowa. "We've always known that his work is outstanding, and it's gratifying that his peers have also recognized his overall excellence."

Wacker is currently developing techniques that parents can use in their homes with very young children to prevent behavior problems from worsening. His research for the past seven years has been funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) on the assessment and treatment of self-injury and aggression among children age 6 and younger.

"What makes our approach unique is that parents conduct all of the assessments and treatments, with only one hour of weekly consultation from us," Wacker said. "Behavioral treatments work about three-quarters of the time to reduce severe behavior problems and can be done by parents if they are given the appropriate guidance and support."

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.