New to CPRC - Matthew Zajic

This is a series to introduce CPRC members to a broader community.

September 27, 2021
Matt Zajic

Discipline/Training Background:  earned my PhD in Education (with an emphasis in Learning and Mind Sciences and a designated emphasis in Writing, Rhetoric, & Composition Studies) from the University of California, Davis in 2018. During my doctoral training, I was a Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need Fellow (Office of Special Education Programs) in the area of assessment of special populations. Prior to my doctoral training, I earned a BA in Sociology (minors in Professional Writing and Applied Psychology) from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Following my doctoral training, I was a National Center for Special Education Research Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Institute of Education Sciences) in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Education at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development.

Department:  Intellectual Disability/Autism Program, Health & Behavior Studies Department, Teachers College, Columbia University

Started at Columbia: 2020

What research are you working on currently? 

My primary line of research focuses on understanding and supporting the writing development of individuals with autism spectrum disorder, with specific attention to theory, measurement and assessment, and instruction and intervention. My current research projects are aligned to these general areas with a particular emphasis on the COVID-19 pandemic. One project is examining issues of using adapted tele-assessment approaches to assess the written language skills of elementary students with autism, with emphasis on using psychoeducational assessment tools and measuring child and family behaviors in online assessment spaces. A second project is exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted academic and literacy development as well as affected access to instructional supports, educational resources, and educational professionals for elementary and secondary school-age children with autism via surveying hundreds of families across the United States.

What motivated you to research in your specialized subject matter?  

My motivation came from being an academic tutor to children who demonstrated a wide array of learning and developmental differences. Many children I worked with who had autism often enjoyed particular writing activities and writing genres but hated some parts of academic writing. When I looked into the research, I found that most studies often reported that such children just hate writing in general. This was not the case for the kids I worked with, and I wanted to learn more about how researchers conceptualize writing development and how educators can support the writing skills of all learners.

What are the policies or areas of policies to which your work is relevant?

My work is situated across the fields of autism, education, special education, and writing studies as well as numerous subfields of psychology (i.e., educational, school, quantitative, and developmental). My work informs how we can best understand and support the heterogeneous writing skills of learners with developmental and learning disabilities as well as how we can bridge writing development and autism theories to better understand language development more broadly across the lifespan.  

Main collaborators at Columbia? Elsewhere? 

I have been fortunate to work with supportive colleagues and research teams on issues related to the academic, reading, writing, language, and social cognitive development of individuals with autism as well as on other topics like special education and writing development across the lifespan from the University of Virginia; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of California, Davis; University of Central Florida; University of North Florida; University of Alberta; University at Albany; Arizona State University; University of Nebraska, Omaha; and the City University of New York, College of Staten Island (to name just a few).

Don't be shy; what accomplishment are you most proud of and why?

An accomplishment I am quite proud of was being asked to serve as a guest co-editor of a journal special issue on the topic of supporting the writing development of students with autism while I was a doctoral student (Zajic & Asaro-Saddler, 2019; Topics in Language Disorders). What began as a short conversation during a research conference poster presentation quickly became the opportunity to help design a full issue aligned to my research area and work with some amazing colleagues.

If people want to learn more about your research, where should they start? 

To learn more about my research, I would encourage people to visit my Intellectual Disability/Autism Program faculty profile. Also, always feel free to reach out to me directly to chat about research topics, collaborations, or anything else ([email protected]).

Fun fact about you:

I have played the drums for over two decades. I taught drum lessons as an undergraduate student (often between academic tutoring appointments), worked multiple summers as a rock camp instructor (where I helped kids form bands and play live music), played live shows with local bands, won a junior high school talent show with a band, and jammed with my doctoral adviser during graduate school.