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Brian Boyd named interim director of Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute

This story originally appears on the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute website.

Penny Gordon-Larsen, Interim Vice Chancellor for Research, has appointed Brian Boyd, Ph.D., to serve as interim director of the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG). For more than 55 years, FPG has been a leader in generating knowledge, informing policies, and supporting practices to promote positive developmental and educational outcomes for children of all backgrounds and all abilities from the earliest years.

“FPG is one of Carolina’s largest pan-campus centers and institutes with a dedicated staff of professionals committed to the well-being of children everywhere. It is a vital part of UNC-Chapel Hill’s research enterprise and service to the state, nation, and world,” said Gordon-Larsen. “I’m pleased that Dr. Boyd has agreed to take on the responsibilities of interim director for FPG as he is familiar with the institute from his work as the current chair of the FPG Executive Leadership Board and his role as faculty fellow there.”

Boyd is the William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Education at the UNC School of Education. Previously, he served as a professor of Applied Behavioral Science at the University of Kansas, where he also led the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, a premier research institute known for ground-breaking efforts to improve the care and educational experiences of children over the last half-century. Prior to Kansas, Boyd spent nearly a decade as a faculty member in the UNC Department of Allied Health Sciences, earning tenure and holding research appointments at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities and FPG.

FPG is home to more than 50 projects related to developmental disabilities; physical, social, and emotional health; early care and education; early intervention and special education, racial, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity, and more to address important issues facing children and families. Since its inception, FPG has recognized that every child deserves a safe, healthy, and stimulating childhood. The Institute’s scientists, specialists, and staff ― many of whom lead the field in research and its application ― are dedicated to making this experience a reality for all children.

“We’re glad to have Dr. Boyd on board because he brings strong leadership skills and a full understanding of the content and mission of FPG’s work ― both because of his past work with the Institute and his general knowledge of the field,” said Ron Seifer, FPG’s Associate Director for Research.

For more than 20 years, Boyd has dedicated his career to ensuring high-quality education and outcomes for a most vulnerable population—children and young adults with significant disabilities, who are often subject to exclusion, isolation, and poor postsecondary outcomes. His research has led to effective classroom and home-based interventions for very young children with autism. For autistic individuals who exhibit repetitive, restrictive, and sensory behaviors that interfere with their quality of life, his work has helped them to more fully engage in learning experiences.

Boyd’s more recent scholarship aims to engage and serve an even more vulnerable and marginalized population—autistic children and youth of color and their families. The goal of this work is to make bold inroads to change diagnostic, service provision, and research processes to reduce systemic barriers in the field of special education.

Boyd’s entry into the field of autism research was, perhaps like most researchers, driven by curiosity. For Boyd, that entry was also, to some degree, by chance. As a student in a psychology course at the College of William & Mary in the late 1990s, his textbook had just a single paragraph dedicated to autism. “We didn’t talk about [autism] the way we do now,” Boyd said. “But there was something about that paragraph … I decided to search online, and what popped up was the Autism Society of North Carolina’s summer camp, Camp Royall.”

Boyd applied and became a camp counselor during Camp Royall’s very first summer, spending 10 weeks working with autistic people of varying ages and abilities levels. “After that experience,” said Boyd, “I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”

That summer experience led to a pre-doctoral internship at UNC-Chapel Hill’s TEACCH Autism Program — which provides core services and unique demonstration programs that meet the clinical, training, and research needs of individuals with autism, their families, and professionals across North Carolina — where he worked with 2-year-olds. At the time, very few 2-year-olds were being diagnosed with autism, Boyd noted. “Those early experiences with autistic people and their families led me to where I am and still drive my work today,” he said. “I am still trying to answer some of the research questions that I have from those earliest encounters.”

As one of the nation’s foremost multidisciplinary centers devoted to the study of children from infancy to adolescence, every day FPG’s researchers, implementation and technical assistance specialists, and other professionals work to strengthen and accelerate the translation of research knowledge to evidence-based practices and policies.

Boyd’s current research builds on some of the strengths and work that is already happening at FPG. He uses principles of implementation science to help bridge the research-to-practice gap in autism to support the use of evidence-informed interventions in school-based contexts. And issues of equity and inclusion are at the core of his work in autism ― with a particular focus on the experiences and outcomes of Black families of autistic children.

“I am humbled and honored to serve in the role of interim director of FPG,” said Boyd. “I look forward to finding meaningful ways to support the talented and dedicated professionals of FPG who work every day to ensure that all children and families thrive.”

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