In education, psychology and communication science, there’s a synergy among Baylor researchers whose work addresses developmental disabilities. Motivated by a belief that everyone’s contribution is indispensable, their work creates paths for treatment and inclusion.
- Certified speech-language pathologist whose research focuses on understanding and improving language and literacy outcomes for children and young adults with intellectual disorders.
- Earned National Institutes of Health Early Career Research Award to study the role of technology in functional literacy for young people with intellectual disabilities.
- Served as speech-language pathologist in Texas school district before pursuing Ph.D. in Hearing and Speech Sciences at Vanderbilt University.
- Interdisciplinary researcher focused on the inclusion and belonging of individuals with disabilities in schools, the workplace and faith communities.
- Launching a first-of-its-kind initiative on faith and disability to equip churches, ministry leaders, and families
- Came to Baylor from Vanderbilt University, where he served as a chair and co-director in the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.
- Researcher specializing in behavioral interventions that enhance social and play skills for children with autism..
- Received significant Texas grant to develop resources for siblings of individuals with autism.
- Serves as Coordinator of the Clinic for Assessment Research and Education within the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities
- Neuroscientist focused on autism, epilepsy and early brain development
- His National Institutes of Health-funded research generates comprehensive examinations of seizures, Fragile X Syndrome, and other related impacts.
- Serves as Fellow in the American Epilepsy Society
Q & A With Baylor's Developmental Disabilities Researchers
For individuals and families with developmental disabilities, the need is clear. Estimates show that one out of every seven students lives with a disability that impacts his or her relationship to learning. For family units, developmental disabilities hit home as well— there is at least one family member with a disability in one out of every three households.
Those individuals and families have advocates at Baylor. In disciplines like education, psychology and speech-language pathology, there’s a synergy among Baylor researchers whose work addresses developmental disabilities. That work can be galvanized by partnerships in the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities or dedicated to the long game that comes from studying the roots of an unknown disorder.
The Baylor mission elevates their efforts further still. Motivated by a sense of calling and the belief that everyone’s contribution is indispensable, Baylor researchers build paths for treatment and inclusion as they train the next generation of practitioners to do the same.
In what ways does the Baylor mission intersect with your own sense of mission as you serve others through research?
Like so many of my colleagues, I feel deeply called to the work we are doing here at Baylor and through the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities. We are convinced that communities are incomplete without the presence, gifts, friendship, and faith of people with disabilities and their families. It is a core conviction that reflects God’s design for community—where every member matters, where every part needs every other part. This is why we invest so much in research and leadership training that equips schools, churches, and workplaces to become places of full participation and belonging for people of all abilities. When we learn to widen our welcome, it allows us all to flourish together.
We’ve all been drawn to professions that help others in some way, and I personally find a great deal of fulfillment in getting to interact with individuals with disabilities and their families—it’s an honor to walk alongside them.
Being here at Baylor, the University’s mission is a big draw. It feeds into the sense that what we do is a calling. We get to have authentic conversations, and aspects of faith can be integrated into those conversations. It drives and motivates me, and I am really looking forward to seeing continued growth and synergy around disability research at Baylor.
I grew up with siblings with developmental disabilities, so this is important to me. Baylor is a place where I can do research but also work with families through the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities. Personally, I wanted to do both, and we can here. And we value listening. We’re working with real families in the community, and as we listen to our clients and their families, we can better tailor to what they need.
How would you describe your own unique approach to research in developmental disabilities?
At its most simple level, my lab seeks to understand the relationship between autism and epilepsy. There's a high relationship between the two; we have some projects that focus more exclusively on autism, and some more on epilepsy. So, we try to, in some ways, exploit we know about autism to understand epilepsy, and vice versa.
For families with autism, there’s so much we don’t know. They often feel like they’re grasping at whatever they can to fill those gaps and support their child. In our lab, were trying to understand it better. We follow the data — whatever it drives.
Broadly, my research is focused on educational and behavioral interventions for individuals with autism. I specialize predominantly in interventions to reduce problem behavior and to improve communication skills for kids with autism.
The research we’ve done which trained teachers in utilizing evidence-based interventions is one example. For our teachers, the most important thing to remember is that all children spend the majority of their day in schools. So, if we want children to have access those evidence-based practices, we have to prepare teachers to be able to implement them. It's the only place that every single child can access intervention services and educational services. We provide tools to help these teachers, who care deeply about their students, increase their training and skills to implement effective interventions.
How else does Baylor focus on applied research that extends beyond the lab or clinic?
Too many communities still struggle to welcome and serve children and adults with developmental disabilities well. This challenge is evident within so many K-12 schools, college campuses, businesses, and churches across the country. But the landscape is beginning to change. More and more communities are recognizing the need to revisit their practices and policies. But they need good guidance on how to move forward.
This is where strong research can have such a powerful impact. My colleagues and I are striving to do work that is marked by its rigor, relevance, and reach. All three matter immensely at the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities. In other words, we are committed to doing cutting-edge research that meets real and pressing community needs. But we don’t stop there. We share back what we are learning with families, educators, administrators, pastors, professionals, and so many others. We are intentional about translating our findings in ways that can inform everyday practice. We embed the best of what we know works in our courses, clinics, trainings, and resources. When we do this well, communities are much better prepared to embrace every child, adult, and family impacted by disability.
We see families in the BCDD not only to able to produce results in our clinic, but to provide practical tools or changes for the families we serve—to systematically reduce the intensiveness of this intervention, or to help mom and dad to implement the same things we're doing. We’re constantly gathering data back from them to see what’s helping and to better understand how can we make an effect in their lives, which translates into so many different areas of their life beyond when we see them.
In what ways does the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities (BCDD) elevate Baylor’s research efforts in these areas?
The BCDD, and the chance to work with colleagues like Tonya, was one of the biggest draws for me coming to Baylor. When I look around, I feel like my research really complements what others are doing, and they complement what I am doing. We work as a team to enhance the research portfolio that’s been established.
One of the first things that comes to mind is the potential that the BCDD offers in fostering collaboration and bringing those of us who have similar interest and expertise together. It opens the doors to answer questions that are still persisting in our field. That work is driven by the community needs and what we're hearing from families and individuals with disabilities.
There are numerous opportunities within my department, but as evidenced by the people we are with now, there are lots of other folks across the university working in complementary areas. Baylor is building better infrastructure for this R1 landscape, and it’s exciting to be part of that continued transition and transformation across the university.
Mentorship is an important part of your work. What does that mean to you?
I aim to instill in students the way to do good science, because that’s what is important. That they can attack whatever the problem is with strategies, and that they understand that the work that they do, even if it seems really basic science, could later on have an impact they're not aware of. In my lab, we’re playing a long game. It’s having them understand the rigor of what they need to do, and I feel we train them well to do that here.