Hello! My name is Trieu-Vi Khuu, and I am a junior from Apex, North Carolina majoring in biology and psychology (B.S.) with a minor in women’s and gender studies. My academic and extracurricular focuses have revolved around child development and psychology, as I hope to attend medical school to become a physician in some pediatric (or perhaps even OBGYN!) specialty. What fascinates me the most about developmental psychology is the opportunity for resilience given the proper supportive resources. While it may be easy to focus on the detriments of risk factors, neither risk factors nor protective factors are wholly deterministic on development. Even in the presence of stressors, factors such as adaptive coping strategies or the establishment of emergent identities can still facilitate positive development. Resilience is wonderful to observe in pediatric medicine, and I have been studying it firsthand thus far.
My research experience at UNC began at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD), under the mentorship of Dr. Diana Cejas, MD, MPH. My work has involved performing data analysis for a research abstract I recently presented this month at the Baylor College of Medicine’s 2021 Healthcare Transition Research Consortium, titled: “The relationship between parental catastrophizing and perceptions of healthcare transition readiness for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” Analyzing factors such as parental catastrophization on transition readiness is crucial for improving transition health care for youth with chronic IDDs (such as spina bifida, epilepsy, and down syndrome), as this research encourages support services for not only resiliency in pediatric patients but also their caregivers. This data was collected from the Victory Junction summer camp for youth with chronic conditions, and my analysis is also contributing to a second abstract on transition readiness and parent mental health, focusing in particular on parent depression and anxiety.
I have had the fortunate opportunity to be matched to intern at the UNC TEACCH Autism Program this fall semester, and my work at this site has had wonderful parallels to my prior research experience at the CIDD. TEACCH is led by Dr. Laura Klinger, and the program strives to provide support services for individuals with autism across their lifespan. These services include clinical services such as diagnostic evaluations, as well as training and education programs for schools, parents, teachers, and professionals. My work this semester has been contributing to the T-STEP program, which stands for the TEACCH School Transition to Employment and Postsecondary Education. Similarly to my prior research work with transition health care, T-STEP is focused on providing support transition services for individuals with conditions such as autism in particular.
My main work this semester has been assisting in behavioral assessments for young adults with autism who are enrolled in this T-STEP program. The TREE behavioral assessment stands for the Transition Readiness and Employability Evaluation, and I have been able to play different roles when delivering these assessments. The evaluation simulates a professional work setting, and participants are placed in scenarios that test them on transition readiness areas such as executive function, goal achievement, emotion regulation, and social skills. The goal of TREE is to evaluate these skills before and after the T-STEP intervention program, and I have gained experience in both interacting with participants and scoring them in the TREE evaluation categories. The next step this semester is for me to perform video coding of these assessments, as each evaluation is recorded in order to provide a more robust analysis. Video coding involves further scoring of the participants’ performance that is not possible with in-person scorers, so I am excited to learn more about this procedure.
Interning at UNC TEACCH has been a wonderful experience this semester because it has provided me with experience in patient-facing clinical research. My data analysis work at the CIDD has been a phenomenal opportunity, but being able to interact with study participants at TEACCH is a new experience that I have welcomed. My interpersonal communication skills and professionalism have been greatly strengthened throughout my time as a Gil intern at TEACCH, as I have interacted with TEACCH lab members, young adults with autism, and their families. I feel more confident in my work around developmental research and in navigating my professional development alongside a Gil intern cohort of my incredibly talented peers.