The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Lab is dedicated to researching developmental disabilities, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Intellectual Disabilities, ADHD, and Down Syndrome, among others. The director, students, and staff of the ADDL are committed to maximizing the quality of life and social development for children with and without developmental disabilities. We believe in the full inclusion of all children in society. We believe that research is needed to achieve this ideal of inclusion.

Our research focuses on how children learn to act in social situations and how families and communities can support the development of social competence. We recognize the significant challenges to social inclusion faced by children with developmental disabilities such as ASD and Down Syndrome, and our research is designed to produce information to address these challenges through better awareness, understanding, and teaching strategies.

Please see the Current Studies page for our active research studies.

Research Areas

The research conducted in the lab largely focuses on several processes that contribute to social development and well-being in childhood.


Social Competence

Much of the research conducted by the ADDL involves studying the social challenges and experiences of autistic people. Social competence is conceptualized as the various processes, skills, and behaviours that underlie social interactions between people, such as verbal conversation skills (e.g., how to join a conversation and keep it going), nonverbal sending skills (e.g., sending or understanding nonverbal social communication cues such as gestures, eye-contact, and tone of voice), social knowledge (e.g., understanding social norms), and more. 

The ADDL has developed a questionnaire to investigate the multidimensional components of social competence, called the Multidimensional Social Competence Scale. This questionnaire will help clinicians and researchers measure relevant behaviours and skills that contribute to social functioning. 

Pictured: Three children are playing in the tall grass between two rows of trees. They are jumping beneath an airborne soccer ball. Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash. 


Our research in the area of attention using eye-tracking and gaze tracking explores the attention processes that may interfere with or facilitate an individual’s ability to engage in a variety of social experiences, ranging from detecting information from eyes and faces to interpreting subtle cues from complex social interactions involving several participants.

Pictured: An ADDL researcher sits beside a participant who is set-up on a head-mount in front of an eye-tracker device. The researcher is pointing to the screen and giving instructions to the participant.



Parent-Child Interactions

Parent-child interactions have significant implications for outcomes in children with and without developmental disorders. We are investigating several key research questions within the context of parent-child interactions.

  1. Which parent and child behaviours within interactions are contributing to child mental health and social development?
  2. Which parent and child characteristics contribute to observed interaction behaviours?
  3. What are the similarities and differences in behaviour observed during these interactions when comparing different groups of children?
Pictured: A toddler rests on her father's leg as they draw on a piece of paper in front of them. Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash. 

Family Quality of Life

Family Quality of Life (FQOL) has been defined as “conditions where the family’s needs are met, and family members enjoy their life together as a family and have the chance to do things which are important to them” (Park et al., 2003, p. 368).  In this line of research, we are examining how aspects of the child, family, and surrounding social systems affect FQOL. We look at factors that place the family at risk, such as child behaviour problems, as well as those that protect families from adversity, including open communication and access to appropriate supports and services.

We also began investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the quality of life of families of children with ASD in British Columbia. One challenge brought by COVID-19 was the temporary termination of services, therapies, and interventions for youth with ASD. We aim to understand how these challenges are impacting FQOL, and what has or has not helped families and children during this time. Feedback from caregivers in this study will help inform the government on ways to improve services and supports during and after the pandemic. Please see a recent video presentation on this topic if you are interested in learning more.

Pictured: A young man and his mother look at the camera smiling, each with a hand over the other person's shoulder. Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash.



The research at ADDL has been funded by the Canadian Tri-Councils (SSHRCCIHR, & NSERC), the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the Human Early Partnership, and the Laurel Foundation.

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