Meet our Fellows

Fellows List

Dr Bernie Kirkpatrick: Incoming Fellow

Project Title: Assisting individuals and families affected with Autism Spectrum Disorder and /or Intellectual Disability to reduce sleep problems

Host Institution: NUI Galway

Host PI: Dr Geraldine Leader, Dr Brian McGinley NUIG and Dr Claire McDowell UU

Home Institution: Ulster University


Project Summary: On-going sleep deprivation can be harmful to an individual’s health, wellbeing, daily functioning and quality of life. A high percentage of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and/or Intellectual disability (ASD/ID) experience sleep problems. Sleep difficulties commonly reported include adhering to bedtime routines, trouble falling asleep, frequent waking during the night and waking earlier in the morning. Sleep-related problems are distressing for the individual with ASD and their families. Sleep deprivation can exacerbate day time behaviours which can result in increased aggression, self injurious behaviour, stereotypy, hyperactivity and anxiety. These behaviours have a profound negative effect on daily activities and social inclusion for those affected with ASD/ID. Sleep problems are associated with increased parental stress, reduced sense of competence, poor physical health and reduced quality of life. Assistive Technologies proposed for this research includes the Actigraphy and specifically developed sleep apps delivered via a smart phone/tablet device. These commercially available technologies are relatively inexpensive, robust, easy to use and adaptable to individual user requirements. Combining these technologies to deliver personalised sleep interventions that can be easily integrated into the user’s daily routine enables this project to address multiple sleep-related problems experienced by the individual with ASD/ID. Parental training and the self-management of behavioural at-home sleep interventions will have the potential to improve the quality of sleep for all those affected by ASD/ID and promote positive meaningful outcomes. Individuals with ASD/ID require effective user friendly interventions that meet their diverse needs. As such, the proposed project is an opportunity to combine assistive technologies with parental sleep training and behavioural sleep interventions to evaluate and improve sleep-related problems experienced by the ASD/ID population.

Dr Bernie Kirkpatrick Bio: Prior to the ASSISTID fellowship, Bernie had conducted extensive research into the identification of effective behavioural strategies to promote evidence based interventions. Bernie received her PhD in Behaviour Analytic Techniques and her MSc in Applied Behaviour Analysis from Ulster University.  Her PhD research comprised of a series of experimental and applied studies that compared the efficaciousness of a number of behavioural interventions aimed at delivering behaviour change to encourage emotional wellbeing.  Her MSc in Applied Behaviour Analysis and her professional practice focused on supporting those with ASD/ID to bring about lasting and meaningful behaviour change.  Bernie’s 16 years of applied practice with the Education Authority targeted the identification and implementation of effective components of applied behaviour analytical interventions to promote social inclusion and inclusive education for individuals with ASD/ID. Her research and applied practice had a clear focus on the development of independent behavioural repertoires that enhanced daily functioning and the quality of a client’s life, and that of their family.