Busy UF grad student working to improve lives of children with autism

By Michelle Champalanne

Brandy Stahan, CoN PhD student,	NursingBrandy Strahan, M.S.N., R.N., is a modern-day super mom. She spends the day teaching nursing students at the University of West Florida. She dedicates her nights to UF graduate school homework. And in between, she juggles her kid’s cheerleading practice all while doing homework in the ballpark stands during cheer breaks.

Strahan, an assistant professor at the UWF and a doctoral student in the UF College of Nursing, balances her busy life with time management. Some days are harder than others, and that’s when she counts on her husband’s support. But she knows her hard work will pay off when she can provide help through research to families whose children have autism.

Published in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders in December 2013, Strahan’s recent research focuses on obesity in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Her manuscript was developed as part of her literature review for her dissertation at UF. Her dissertation topic looks at the effect of video-game playing on overweight children with autism. Seventy percent of obese adolescents with autism remain obese into adulthood, she said. Strahan hopes to find a method to prevent this from happening.

“In order to improve their health outcomes and give them an opportunity to be successful adults, I wanted to look at an intervention that would address the issue of obesity among this population,” she said.

She hopes her research will help health care professionals better understand how to assist adolescents with weight issues. She’s currently working on her dissertation based on her experience as a pediatric nurse.

She was inspired to look more closely at autism because of her connections to former patients and friends whose children have the disorder. Through this exposure, she realized how much dedication and effort it takes to raise a child with autism and how that can be very trying for the family, as well as the child.

She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Mississippi, where she grew up, and received her master’s degree from Florida State University. Now Strahan is pursuing a Ph.D. at UF to achieve her future career goal of obtaining a tenure-track faculty position in a nursing program. From there, she hopes to continue her research on autism.

Strahan began her Ph.D. program in 2011, the same year she began her teaching position at UWF. Her class teaches undergraduate students pediatrics and community health. They gain clinical experience with children who have autism as part of the class.

She aims to graduate in May 2015.

“I wanted to go into research that had something to do with children with this disorder to improve their lifestyle and health outcomes,” she said.