University of Minnesota
Frank Symons, Ph.D., is professor of special education and educational psychology in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Symons's research emphasizes understanding the severe behavior challenges of children and adults with special needs, primarily those with developmental disabilities and emotional or behavioral disorders. For these two groups, much of his research has focused on self-injurious behavior and classroom aggression, respectively. His two current general areas of interest are 1) the development, assessment, and treatment of behhavioral challenges among children and adults with a range of neurodevelopmental and emotional/behavioral disorders and 2) the problem of pain among children and adults with significant intellectual impairments and associated developmental disabilities. In terms of problem behavior, areas of specific research interest include (a) characterizing self-injurious behavior in more detail descriptively (form, location, intensity) and experimentally (function); (b) examining the intersection of behavioral and biological mechanisms underlying chronic self-injury by incorporating sensory (e.g., pain sensitivity, peripheral innervation) and autonomic (e.g., sympathetic/parasympathetic, HPA axis) nervous system variables; and (c) translating findings from basic research into treatment applications. In terms of pain, areas of specific research include (a) the reliable and valid assessment of pain in children and adults with significant cognitive, communicative, and motor impairments associated with intellectual disability; (b) the relation between behavioral and biological variables as markers for altered pain; (c) modifying/adapting quantitative sensory testing for individuals with specialized needs; and (d) the relation between pain and problem behavior, specifically self-injury. Dr. Symons directs an observational methods lab and is highly collaborative across a number of research groups (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of British Columbia, and Dalhousie University), clinical sites (Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare), labs (University of Michigan Peripheral Nerve Lab), and centers (Center for Neurobehavioral Development and Minnesota Center for Pain Research).