Scholar Stories: Dr. Peggy J. Schaefer Whitby

Dr. Peggy J. Schaefer Whitby

Dr. Peggy J. Schaefer Whitby, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational & Clinical Studies, is an Autism specialist and behavior analyst who has worked with children who have Autism for the last ten years and children with behavioral disorders for the last twenty years. She also serves as the technical director for various brain injury rehabilitation programs.

Prior to joining our faculty in 2009, she earned her B.S. degree from St. Cloud State University, her M.A. degree from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Dr. Whitby then worked as a certified teacher, special educator, and as a behavior/Autism support teacher for Orange County Public Schools, Orlando, Florida. Dr. Whitby then earned her Ph.D. from the University of Central Florida. She was intrigued by UNLV because of the opportunities available for working with people who have Autism.

Since arriving at UNLV, Dr. Whitby has become one of the defacto community leaders for families with Autism in the Las Vegas community by serving as an active member of the Nevada Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at UNLV. In addition, the Nevada Association for Behavior Analysis has asked her to serve as the president elect. She has also been involved as an advocate for health care and insurance reform for children with Autism.

UNLV Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Through the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at UNLV, which is funded by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Fund for a Healthy Nevada, Dr. Whitby works to deliver family centered positive behavior supports on three levels:

  1. General community awareness regarding Autism such as what is Autism and where do families go for services.
  2. Strategies that families and teachers can use with children who have Autism.
  3. Family centered focus groups for children with severe behavior needs.

Workshops at the first two levels are provided free to the community. She encourages families and teachers to take advantage of what the center provides, "I believe that teachers are the keys to success for all kids. When we look at kids with disabilities, the teacher has the ability to even the playing field for them. Since these kids are taught in inclusive settings, all teachers need to have tools in their toolkits ready to serve these kids". For more information regarding scheduled workshops visit the UNLV Center For Autism Spectrum Disorders website:

Through the UNLV Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders Dr. Whitby publishes a resource guide on Autism for parents. The guide is available for free in PDF format. The guide is updated annually.


The UNLV Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders training on family centered positive behavior supports, provides Dr. Whitby a research platform for looking at culturally responsive positive behavior supports. More specifically, culturally responsive positive behavior supports. "In the area of Autism, families of Hispanic origin are not attending our trainings. That lead us to do a national literature search to see what is going on in the area of Autism treatment and family supports for Latino families that have children with Autism. What we found was that Latino families are less likely to seek out evidence based Autism treatments. So we are trying to find out why. Is it something we are not providing within our trainings to meet the context of their families’ and/or cultural needs". Dr. Whitby plans on seeking grant funding to translate resources into Spanish and assess those resources to determine if they are changes that need to be made to better serve the local community. "Given the demographics, it is critical that Latino families that have children with Autism are able to access the resources that they need".

Dr. Whitby also has a research interest in academic achievement for students with austim spectrum disorders in mathematics. "When we look closely with children with Autism spectrum disorders, many kids also qualify for a learning disability in mathematics and, as a result, struggle with applied problem solving and real world problem solving". She hopes to continue her research in this field.

Nationally Dr. Whitby has published in a total of ten peer reviewed journals. She is well connected in the realm of Autism spectrum disorders and has ongoing opportunities to collaborate with other well known scholars in the field.

The Future

This year Dr. Whitby will undergo mid-tenure review. At the same time, she continues to teach courses for the Department of Educational & Clinical Studies, as well as continue conducting research, and working with and seeking funding to develop programs for the Autism community. "It is critical that we have highly qualified/high quality teachers who are able to implement and integrate evidenced based strategies in all settings. Some children need more direct services. Other children can have services embedded within the inclusion setting. We really need to look at what the needs of the child are and base interventions around those child’s needs". Dr. Whitby intends to accomplish this goal even if means that she has to work with one family or one child at a time.

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