The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Student Spotlight: Hallie Brown examines impacts of parenting and inhibitory control on two-year-olds at-risk for ADHD

“Some kids don’t grow out of their terrible twos. I want to know why that is,” says Hallie Brown, the recipient of a $10,000 Pre-dissertation Fellowship from the Center for Research on Families (CRF). Brown is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences working in Dr. Lisa Harvey’s Early Behavior Development Lab. Brown is in the fourth year of the program. Her research focuses on the trajectory of Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms in two-year-old children. Brown’s interests lie in cognitive processes, memory and attention, and self-inhibitive behavior.

In addition to doing research, Brown enjoys conducting clinical work with an evaluation component. Outside of the classroom and research lab, Brown splits her remaining time between UMass’ Psychological Services Center (PSC) as a member of the Child Team and she performs evaluations of the Department of Neurosurgery at the New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Hospital.  

At Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, Brown received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Math. For several years, she worked in a lab conducting neuroimaging studies primarily with children with autism, as well as adults and children diagnosed with ADHD. The lab’s research included a significant amount of longitudinal studies that discovered young children with autism frequently developed ADHD. “My lab was interested in the comorbidity between these,” said Brown, “and I think that just sparked some interest in ADHD and how early we are able to identify symptoms of ADHD.”

Brown will use the CRF fellowship for additional time to continue, and further, her research on the various impacts of parenting and inhibitory control on two-year-olds at-risk for ADHD. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children cannot be diagnosed with ADHD until they reach four-years-old. Brown believes symptoms can present much earlier than this. Due to the nature of two-year-old children and the AAP guidelines, there is not a lot of research surrounding hyperactive two-year-olds and ADHD symptoms.

Brown is aware of the growing controversy over the diagnoses of ADHD in children with behavior issues. “For kids with ADHD, it’s really about this core problem of controlling their own behavior whereas problem behavior is a broad label we use for a lot of different behaviors that could be stemming from ADHD. Or it could be a kid that’s very oppositional, a kid that’s experienced trauma, has a chaotic household, didn’t get enough sleep, or even a kid that’s excited to go somewhere after school — there are so many reasons,” Brown explains. She stresses the importance of mental health professionals learning to pinpoint the driving force behind young children’s behaviors.

Brown hopes to pursue a career in a medical setting where she will have the opportunity to combine her professional passions of both working with patients, conducting research, and teaching undergraduates.