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Muriel Drew Saunders, Ph.D.

Primary office:
Dole, room #4089


Professional Biography

Muriel Saunders conducts research with her husband Richard Saunders in intellectual, physical and developmental disabilities, including adaptive switch technology, supported routines, health promotion, and weight loss interventions. She is also working with Amanda Reichard to study weight loss in people with physical disabilities.

Dr. Saunders has also worked in other areas of health promotion including workplace ergonomics and dental care.

She began her career in 1967 as a 4th grade teacher. In her first year of teaching, she teamed up with Montrose Wolf and Harriet Barrish to find a way to reduce the disruptive behaviors of her students. They developed a landmark procedure called the Good Behavior Game that quickly made students manageable. This experience was a turning point in her career. For the last 49 years, she has maintained a foot in both the education and research realms.

She is also affiliated with KU's Parsons Research Center, the Weight Management Center, and the Kansas Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Center.

Recent Grants

Co-Investigator: Communication of People with Mental Retardation
Agency: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Type: P01 (HD18955, Years 21-25) Period: April 10, 2007 – March 31, 2012 
Objective: To discover ways to prevent or remediate incomplete language development often associated with intellectual disabilities.

Co-Investigator: Reducing the Incidence of Obesity in Adults with Developmental Disabilities in Kansas
Agency: Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities/Administration on Developmental Disabilities
Type: DDP 07-831 Period: October 1, 2006-September 30, 2009
Objective: To assist overweight adults with developmental disabilities to lose weight. Methods, results, and lessons learned with these participants are updated at www.diet.ku.edu.

Co-Investigator: Closing the Loop: Exploring Best Practices in Healthy Athletes Referral Follow-up
Agency: Special Olympics International
Type: Contract  Period: January 15, 2010-January 15, 2011
Objective: To examine follow-up to dental screening recommendations by Special Olympics Athletes

Principal Investigator: Weight Loss by Individuals with Physical Disabilities 
Agency: Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research
Type: FIR Period: October 1, 2009-September 30, 2012
Objective: To compare the NHLBI  (recommended care) diet with a meal replacement diet with adults with mobility impairments.

Co-Investigator: Weight Loss and Maintenance by Adults with IDD
Agency: National Institute of  Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Type: R01  Period: September 1, 2010-August 31, 2015
Objective: To compare the NHLBI  (recommended care) diet with a meal replacement diet with adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Selected Publications

Murphy, K. M., Saunders, M. D., Saunders, R. R., & Olswang, L. B. (2004). Effects of ambient stimuli on measures of biobehavioral state and microswitch use in adults with profound multiple impairments, Research in Developmental Disabilities, 25, 355-370.

Mellstrom, B. P., Saunders, M. D., Saunders, R. R., & Olswang, L. B. (2005). Interaction of biobehavioral state and microswitch use in individuals with profound impairments. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 17, 35-53.  
Saunders, R. R., Chaney, L., & Marquis, J. (2005). Equivalence class establishment with two-, three-, and four-choice matching to sample by senior citizens. The Psychological Record,55, 539-559.

Saunders, R. R., McEntee, J. E., Saunders, M. D. (2005).Interaction of reinforcement schedules, a behavioral prosthesis, and work-related behavior in adults with mental retardation. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 38, 163-176
Saunders, R. R., Saunders, M. D., Struve, B., Munce, A. L., Olswang, L. B., Dowden, P. A., & Klasner, E. R. (2007). Discovering indices of contingency awareness in adults with multiple profound disabilities. American Journal on Mental Retardation112, 246-260.

Elias, B, C., Goyos, C., Saunders, M., & Saunders, R. (2008). Teaching manual signs to adults with mental retardation using matching-to-sample procedures and stimulus equivalence. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 24, 1–13.

Saunders, M. D., Questad, K. A., Cullinan, T. B. & Saunders, R. R. (2011), Adapted digital music players for individuals with severe impairments. Behavioral Interventions, 26(2), 161–166.

Saunders, R. R., Saunders, M. D., Donnelly, J. E., Smith, B. K., Sullivan, D. K., Guilford, B., & Rondon, M. F. (2011). Evaluation of an approach to weight loss in adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 49(2), 103-112.

Saunders, R. R., & Saunders, M. D (2011). Innovation of a reinforce preference assessment with the difficult to test. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32(5), 1572-1579. [Presently online at: http://www.sciencedirect.com.www2.lib.ku.edu:2048/science/journal/08914222]

Saunders, M. D. (January 2011). The story of the good behavior game. Invited address, Good Behavior Game Training Conference, Baltimore, MD.

Current Professional Service

Board of Editors, Research in Developmental Disabilities


Kansas Special Educator of the Year Award, Kansas Federation of the Council for Exceptional Children, 1990
Clarissa Hug Teacher of the Year Award, Federation of the Council for Exceptional Children, 1991
Joan Wald Baken Award, Division of Physical and Health Disabilities, Federation of the Council for Exceptional Children, 2008


Muriel Saunders received her B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. 

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