Portrait of Dr Ciara Padden

Dr Ciara Padden

Lecturer in Learning Disability
Director of Studies for the BSc in IDD


Dr Padden has a BA in Psychology from the University College, Dublin and a PhD in Applied Behaviour Analysis from the National University of Ireland.  

She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and has been working with people with developmental disabilities since 2008.

Her PhD investigated the relationship between stress and health among parents of children with ASD and her doctoral research has been published in related journals; Journal of Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Dr Padden has presented her research both nationally and internationally.

Research interests

  • understanding the links between stress, health and well-being among carers of individuals with developmental disabilities
  • stress-reduction interventions
  • parent and staff training in behavioural interventions
  • the applications of behaviour analytic principles to improve the quality of life for individuals with developmental disabilities


Dr Padden teaches primarily on the MSc in Applied Behaviour Analysis and Positive Behaviour Support and related postgraduate programmes in addition to supervising practice-based work and dissertations.

She is the module convenor for and is involved in teaching on Behaviour and Analysis intervention; a module shared by students on postgraduate programmes.


Dr Padden supervises research on behavioural interventions for children and adults with ASD or developmental disabilities, parent and staff training in behavioural interventions and health and well-being of parents and carers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 


  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst
  • member of the UK Society for the Advancement of Behaviour Analysis
  • member of the Association for Behavior Analysis International
  • member of the Association for Contextual Behavioural Science
  • member of the Psychological Society for Ireland



  • Vostanis, A., Padden, C., Chiesa, M., Rizos, K. and Langdon, P. (2020). A Precision Teaching Framework for Improving Mathematical Skills of Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Journal of Behavioral Education [Online]. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10864-020-09394-2.
    The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of a precision teaching (PT) framework on the mathematical ability of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We also examined if students of moderate mathematical ability could perform as well as their peers with fewer difficulties with their math skills. Sixteen students participated and were divided into three groups. One group engaged in PT, and the other two groups functioned as comparisons. The PT group practiced six skills introduced linearly. An A-B design was used for the five component skills,
    and a multiple baseline across participants design was used for the composite skill (addition). The intervention led to a significant improvement in all skills, including addition, and this was associated with a large effect size; student performance met or exceeded that of their peers. Overall, the findings suggest that PT is an efficient and effective approach for teaching students with IDDs.
  • Brady, L., Padden, C. and McGill, P. (2019). Improving procedural fidelity of behavioural interventions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: A systematic review. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities [Online] 32:762-778. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jar.12585.
    Background: Despite its importance within behavioural intervention, it remains unclear how best to achieve high procedural fidelity. This paper reviewed studies on improving procedural fidelity of behavioural interventions for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

    Method: A systematic literature search was conducted, which identified 20 studies meeting inclusion criteria. Data were extracted on study design, participant characteristics, intervention, target behaviours, effect sizes, maintenance, generalisation, and social validity. A quality rating was also applied.

    Results: A total of 100 participants took part in the included studies. Most participants were teachers working with children in school settings. There was a significant positive correlation between level of procedural fidelity and client outcomes. Feedback was the most commonly employed intervention to improve procedural fidelity.

    Conclusions: More research should be conducted in environments with high levels of variability such as community homes to determine how to reach and maintain high levels of procedural fidelity.
  • Padden, C., Concialdi-McGlynn, C. and Lydon, S. (2018). Psychophysiological measures of stress in caregivers of individuals with autism spectrum disorder: a systematic review. Developmental Neurorehabilitation [Online] 22:149-163. Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17518423.2018.1460769.
    Purpose: Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often self-report heightened levels of stress and physical health problems. This paper reviewed studies assessing physiological measures of stress among parents of children with ASD.

    Methods: Systematic database searches identified 15 studies meeting inclusion criteria. Studies were reviewed to determine: (a) control group characteristics; (b) caregiver and care recipient characteristics; (c) setting; (d) physiological measures employed; (e) physiological outcomes; and (f) stressor type. A measure of methodological quality was also applied.

    Results: Salivary cortisol was the most common physiological measure employed. A pattern of blunted physiological activity emerged within the reviewed studies, though some studies reported normal or even higher physiological activity among this population.

    Conclusions: Findings suggested dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis and autonomic nervous system for some, but not all, parents of children with ASD. Further research is warranted.
  • Padden, C. and James, J. (2017). Stress among parents of children with and without autism spectrum disorder: a comparison involving physiological indicators and parent self-reports. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities [Online] 29:567-586. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10882-017-9547-z.
    Parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have been reported as experiencing higher levels of stress and poorer physical health than parents of typically developing children. However, most of the relevant literature has been based on parental self-reports of stress and health. While research on physiological outcomes has grown in recent years, gaps still exist in our understanding of the physiological effects, if any, of stress related to parenting a child with ASD. The present study compared parent-reported stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as selected physiological measures of stress (i.e., cortisol, alpha-amylase, and ambulatory blood pressure and heart rate) between matched groups of parents of children with (N = 38) and without (N = 38) ASD. Participants completed questionnaires, collected saliva samples for the purpose of measuring cortisol and alpha-amylase, and wore an ambulatory blood pressure monitor for 24 h. Parents of children with ASD reported significantly higher levels of parental distress, anxiety, and depression than parents of typically developing children. Parent-reported distress, anxiety, depression, and health were not correlated with physiological measures. With the exception that parents of children with ASD had significantly lower cortisol levels 30 min after waking, no other significant group differences were found for physiological measures. Parents of children with ASD reported significantly higher use of a number of adaptive coping strategies (e.g., emotional support) in comparison to parents of typically developing children. Results are discussed in the context of implications for future research directions, stress research, and practical implications for parental support.
  • Foody, C., James, J. and Leader, G. (2015). Parenting stress, salivary biomarkers and ambulatory blood pressure: a comparison between mothers and fathers with Autism Spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders [Online] 45:1084-1095. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10803-014-2263-y.
    Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may experience higher levels of stress and health problems than parents of children with typical development. However, most research has focused on mothers, with emphasis on parent-reported stress and wellbeing. This study compared parenting responsibility, distress, anxiety, depression, cortisol, alpha-amylase, and cardiovascular activity between 19 mother-father dyads of children with ASD. Mothers reported higher parenting responsibility, distress, anxiety, and depression than fathers, while fathers had higher blood pressure and heart rate variability. Mothers and fathers had lower than average morning cortisol levels, suggesting stress effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis. Parents of children with ASD may benefit from routine health screening (particularly adrenal and cardiovascular function) and referral for stress reduction interventions or supports.
  • Lydon, S., Healy, O., Moran, L. and Foody, C. (2015). A quantitative examination of punishment research. Research in Developmental Disabilities [Online] 36:470-484. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2014.10.036.
    The current review examined 368 articles, published between 1967 and 2013, which evaluated punishment-based procedures for the treatment of challenging behavior among persons with developmental disabilities and quantitatively analyzed: (a) the amount of research that has assessed different types of punishment procedures; (b) the characteristics of the participants, behaviors, and treatments included in these studies, and (c) the relative efficacy of the various punishment procedures in general and with regard to the inclusion of reinforcement-based components, method of treatment selection and development, and function of the targeted challenging behaviors. Further, the study evaluated the included studies for the presence of important quality indicators. It was intended that such an analysis would provide a useful overview of the extant research on punishment procedures as a behavior reduction technique. Suggestions regarding research methodology and areas for further investigation are made for future research evaluating punishment-based interventions.
  • Mulligan, S., Healy, O., Lydon, S., Moran, L. and Foody, C. (2014). An analysis of treatment efficacy for stereotyped and repetitive behaviors in autism. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders [Online] 1:143-164. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40489-014-0015-8.
    Stereotyped, repetitive, ritualistic, obsessive, and
    compulsive behaviors are a common feature for many individuals
    with autism, and multiple topographies of such behavior
    exist. Previous reviews have discussed treatments for
    stereotypy and repetitive behaviors; however, to date, none
    have systematically evaluated the efficacy of such treatments.
    An abundance of treatments based on the principles of applied
    behavior analysis exist within the literature; however, many
    assume that stereotypy is maintained by automatic reinforcement.
    The current review aimed to evaluate the efficacy of
    treatments for stereotypy across disciplines including behavioral,
    pharmacological, and sensory-based therapies. Furthermore,
    this review compares the efficacy of function-based and
    nonfunction-based treatments for stereotypy.
  • Foody, C., James, J. and Leader, G. (2014). Parenting stress, salivary biomarkers and ambulatory blood pressure in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders [Online] 8:99-110. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2013.10.015.
    Parenting a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is often associated with high levels of stress. This in turn can undermine the success of early intervention, and lead to poorer health outcomes for parents. The present study investigated the effects of parenting a child with an ASD on self-reported parenting stress, salivary biomarkers, and 24-h ambulatory blood pressure. Seventy-four mothers of 2–14 year olds with an ASD diagnosis completed a questionnaire booklet, which contained measures of parenting stress, and parent and child characteristics. Mothers wore an ambulatory blood pressure monitor, which collected systolic and diastolic blood pressure and heart rate over a 24-h period. Saliva samples were collected for the purpose of measuring cortisol and alpha-amylase levels. High levels of parenting stress and anxiety, and moderately high levels of depression were reported. Mothers were found to have low cortisol levels, suggesting dysregulation of the HPA-axis and cortisol profile. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that quantity of unmet service needs, sleep problems, socialisation deficits, adaptive behaviour, and the coping strategies of self-blame and behavioural disengagement predicted maternal outcomes. Findings are discussed in relation to their implications for supporting parents of children with ASD.
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