Dr. Wendy Stone, a Professor of Psychology, focuses on early identification and early intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Before arriving at UW in 2010, she spent more than 20 years as a faculty member at Vanderbilt University, where she founded and directed the “Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders” (TRIAD). As the acronym TRIAD suggests, Dr. Stone’s work focuses on three facets of autism—research, clinical services, and community outreach—all three of which she has incorporated in her UW lab, “Research in Early Autism Detection and Intervention” (READi Lab). Out of Dr. Stone’s long-term research with children and families, she developed the Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers (STAT) and published a book for parents entitled, Does My Child Have Autism?
How did Dr. Stone choose academia? “The short answer is serendipity!” she recently told UW ADVANCE during an interview. The slightly longer answer? “There were a couple of reasons: first, I had become very interested in autism at a time when there was very little awareness about it, and very few services were available. Second, I had always been drawn to science and wanted to understand the science underlying the early emergence of autism and the development of effective treatment strategies.”
Dr. Stone shares more with UW ADVANCE about her research and academic career below:
Q&A: Current work and career enjoyment
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: Work from the READi group extends from the lab into the community. We have many different studies. One of our most recently developed initiatives, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, will implement and evaluate an innovative healthcare service delivery model designed to promote earlier access to specialized intervention for toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Screen-Refer-Treat (SRT) model provides a coordinated and cost-effective approach to early identification and intervention by involving both medical and early intervention providers, and represents a practical and sustainable strategy for bridging the gap between Autism Spectrum Disorder concerns and intervention. Four counties in Washington State are participating: Skagit, Lewis, Yakima, and Spokane.
Another study is evaluating the efficacy of a parent-implemented intervention for promoting social and communicative development in infant siblings of children with autism, who are at elevated risk for autism and language impairments. We want to identify which children benefit from this intervention, as well as the processes involved in promoting early social and language development. This study is conducted in collaboration with Vanderbilt University and funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). We are actively recruiting families for this study now!
Another one of our projects has involved developing a streamlined autism assessment tool that can be used by community providers who have limited knowledge or training in autism. The goal is to develop an assessment that could be completed in less than 90 minutes, and that would correspond to the gold standard for autism diagnosis. The current wait lists for autism diagnoses are really, really long. If the assessment tool is successful, it could enable many more community-based staff to conduct assessments.
We have several other projects as well. One study is examining eye-blink conditioning in infant siblings of children with autism, and its relation to later socially contingent behavior, another is evaluating a web-based parent tutorial designed to increase children’s participation in everyday home activities and routines, and a third involves a collaboration with Georgia Tech on measuring eye-to-eye gaze in naturalistic settings. We are a busy lab!
Q: What aspects of your career do you most enjoy?
A: There are many aspects that I enjoy. I like interacting directly with families—helping them understand autism, interacting with their children, and giving parents strategies to improve life at home. I also like working with service providers, and we have been fortunate to have had a state grant that enabled us to provide training workshops across the state on early screening and intervention for autism. It’s very gratifying when community providers tell you that our training workshops were exactly what they needed at the time, and that they now feel more comfortable identifying and working with young children with autism. I also really enjoy the research and training aspects of my career. Watching graduate students develop is wonderful. And, of course, developing a kernel of an idea into a large study is a joy.