Empowering Change: The Impact of Dr. Mire's Research on Autism and Family Well-being

May 30, 2024
Dr. Sarah Mire

As a passionate and dedicated Associate Professor of School Psychology at Baylor University, Dr. Sarah Mire has been a trainer for graduate and Ph.D. students aspiring to become scientist-practitioner school psychologists for more than ten years. Her journey in the field of psychology has been shaped by a deep-rooted fascination with human behavior and a commitment to understanding and supporting individuals with diverse needs. With a background in mental and behavioral health care spanning over two decades, she brings a unique blend of practical experience and academic expertise to her role. Her research interests, particularly in neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism, have led Dr. Mire to collaborate with dedicated teams to explore innovative ways to support autistic individuals, their families, educators, and healthcare providers. 

Dr. Mire is a Faculty Affiliate of the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities (BCDD). She is also a Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Specialist in School Psychology, and Nationally Certified School Psychologist. She has training as a researcher and a health service provider specializing in psychology and school psychology.

Dr. Mire’s love for this field began at an early age. As a fourth grader, she first remembers contemplating this area. She said, “I wanted to be in a program at my elementary school where we were paired with students with different types of disabilities. I came to know children my age who were blind, deaf, had intellectual and developmental disabilities, used wheelchairs, and communicated non-verbally—this was such a powerful experience for me to develop friendships with kids that otherwise I had little exposure to outside of this program.” Her parents were undoubtedly influential on her career path, as well. Conversations at home frequently centered on mental and spiritual well-being, as well as demonstrating love, appreciation, and support for others as a way of practicing their Christian beliefs.

Her area of expertise and focus is on neurodevelopmental conditions, with a particular emphasis on autism. She finished specialized training in diagnosing and working with people with autism, but always seeks to expand her knowledge. She said, “The more I know, the more I realize I do not know. I have a special interest in understanding and supporting the needs of the adults who love, teach, and/or care for autistic children.” Dr. Mire believes that one of the most beneficial actions we as a community can take is to provide support to the individuals surrounding the person with the autism diagnosis. She said, “I am interested in how supporting families, educators, and healthcare providers can improve schooling processes and outcomes for autistic learners.” 

Dr. Mire has over 20 years of experience in mental and behavioral health care, with a background in residential treatment, community mental health clinics, public schools, and outpatient hospital programs. Before transitioning to a researcher, she worked as a practitioner, which influenced her perspective and approach. She said, “I had already worked as a practitioner and thought I wanted to earn the PhD so I could direct psychological services in school districts or serve in other administrative and leadership roles. But shortly after I began studying for my PhD, I discovered a love for research and knew I wanted to pursue a career in academia.” 

Dr. Mire guides graduate students who are pursuing careers as scientist-practitioner school psychologists. Baylor offers specialist-level and doctoral-level programs in School Psychology, and Dr. Mire is responsible for teaching courses that prepare students at both levels. Apart from her teaching duties, a substantial part of her role as an applied researcher entails guiding PhD students through conducting and completing research studies. As a result, students work alongside her in their research endeavors and acquire the essential skills to conduct research independently through their dissertation work.

Research is an essential component of the BCDD that helps improve understanding of autism and other developmental disabilities. Dr. Mire collaborates extensively with two research teams to conduct her work, *sparc (School Psychology Autism Research Collaboration) and ASD4ASD (Academic Skill Development for Autism Spectrum Disorder). The mission of *sparc is to improve child outcomes by positively impacting the functioning of those in the systems immediately surrounding an autistic child, such as families, direct service providers, and school personnel. ASD4ASD is a cross-institutional research team involving Dr. Milena Keller-Margulis at the University of Houston and Dr. Kelsey Ragan at Baylor University. 

Dr. Mire states, “One study that *sparc is about to launch is focused on understanding more about how providers in school and clinical settings gather and integrate culturally relevant information into their autism diagnostic evaluations.” Ongoing disparities in autism-related care persist for individuals from marginalized communities based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and language. Dr. Mire said, “School-based providers, in particular, have unique opportunities to address these disparities.” The team will use the data gathered from this study and data from a previous study by Dr. Mire to develop an approach focused on providers to enhance the recognition and utilization of cultural information during autism assessment. Next, the team will test this approach to see if it works.

ASD4ASD is getting ready to initiate a new study as part of a series of research projects focused on developing more precise and efficient techniques for evaluating the academic abilities of autistic students and monitoring their progress in acquiring academic skills. Dr. Mire said, “We have been working for several years to study how to adapt administration conditions of curriculum-based measurement to increase student engagement without compromise to psychometrics, as well as ways to involve caregivers in this. Our upcoming study is about teachers’ perceptions of the usability of some of our approaches because, ultimately, we want our ideas to be useful in the classroom.” 

Another one of Dr. Mire’s research projects is in collaboration with her long-time mentor, Dr. Robin Kochel, at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Mire said, “We have been working on ways to equip primary care providers with information that our research tells us what families want and need regarding autism evaluation, intervention, and school-based services.” The upcoming studies will help the team evaluate how well interventions achieve these goals: (a) improving provider knowledge and confidence in giving information to families, (b) changing how providers act when they are with patients, and (c) influencing how families seek help. Our main long-term goal is to assess how interventions that focus on providers affect child outcomes.

Dr. Mire’s most significant research experience was her personal interactions with the individuals behind the data. She has preserved notes and drawings from children and families for over 20 years and cherishes this collection. She said, “When a family whose child I’ve been seeing for treatment says, ‘things are better, and we have learned enough that we can help our child on our own/without a psychologist,’ or a parent whose child I’ve evaluated says ‘I feel like I understand my child better now.’ This also happens during clinical research studies, where parents express a better understanding of who the child is after they’ve come in for a study visit.” Dr. Mire finds the feedback from clients, parents, physicians, and teachers incredibly impactful. “Much of my time right now is with graduate students, and these are among my favorite experiences too—when students successfully defend their dissertation, have their first publication, or match their dream internship—I love that,” she said.

Dr. Mire's main objective as a faculty member is to prepare school psychology researchers and practitioners to have a positive impact on the lives of the people with whom they work and the families they serve. She said, “My goal is for them to be change agents, to change systems and processes for the better.” As a researcher, Dr. Mire said, “My goal is parallel to the goal I have for preparing school psychology researchers: to change science and the application of that science in ways that promote flourishing for autistic children and their families.” 

The faculty members affiliated with the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities are committed to meaningful projects that contribute to the well-being of individuals with disabilities, their families, and communities. Dr. Mire is just one example of the faculty at the Center who seek to innovate and implement programs to support families, practitioners, and teachers impacting individuals with disabilities.