VKC researchers continue to contribute to the premier national research conference on developmental disabilities

51st Annual 2018 Gatlinburg Conference

Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) researchers were presenters and discussants at the 51st Annual Gatlinburg Conference on Research and Theory in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the premier national gathering of researchers and future researchers in the field.

The conference theme was “Biological and Cultural Perspectives on the Family: Implications for IDD.” The conference was held in San Diego, California, Apr. 11-13.

The Conference Chair is Leonard Abbeduto, Ph.D., director of the MIND Institute, University of California Davis, and a member of the VKC External Advisory Committee. VKC members serving on the Executive Committee are Jim Bodfish, Ph.D., professor of Hearing & Speech Sciences, and Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics. Jeffrey Neul, M.D., Ph.D., VKC director, has been invited to serve on the Executive Committee planning the 2019 Conference.

Headshot of Julie Lounds Taylor

Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D.

“The Gatlinburg conference is always one of the highlights of my year,” Taylor said. “I’ve been attending it since my first year of graduate school. I presented my first poster at a Gatlinburg Conference and gave my first symposium presentation at Gatlinburg a few years later. Every year, the conference is a great chance to catch up with collaborators, mentors, people I trained alongside, and former mentees.”

The overall aims of the conference are to promote exchange of information regarding the latest findings in behavioral and biobehavioral research on the causes, prevention, and interventions for intellectual disability and related developmental disabilities; to further researchers’ understanding of the manifestations of those disabilities; to better characterize the contexts in which people with disabilities and their families live; to promote collaboration among behavioral scientists; and to provide a major training resource for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and other junior scientists entering the field of intellectual disabilities research.

“One of the highlights for me was a symposium that included researchers from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. examining new ways to treat co-occurring mental health problems in individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Taylor said. “In my work with youth on the autism spectrum who are transitioning to adulthood, I have become painfully aware of the challenges many of these youth face with anxiety and depression, and the frustratingly few evidence-based treatments that effectively ameliorate these symptoms. I am hopeful that the treatment trials discussed in this symposium will have positive results and will result in new treatment options for those youth and their families.”

Throughout the years, the Gatlinburg Conference has developed a reputation as a great conference for trainees, the future of the field. The small size and collegiality of the Conference allow trainees to meet and to talk with leaders in the fields, as well as to network with others at similar career stages.

“Students and postdocs have always made up a significant percentage of the Conference attendance, and the Executive Committee has decided to make training a more explicit focus of Conference-related activities,” Taylor said. “In the future, expect to see a graduate student planning committee, an annual graduate student oral paper session, and more pre-conference and conference events focused on fostering the next generation of leaders in intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

The Gatlinburg Conference is a part of VKC history as well as the field’s history. The Conference was started by Norm Ellis, Ph.D., a faculty member in Psychology at Peabody College who was a researcher in the early years of the VKC, and colleagues in the field. The Conference began as a small gathering of faculty and trainees who met in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains. Today, it is a national and international conference held in major U.S. cities.

Vanderbilt and VKC Participation in Symposia

(italics indicates Vanderbilt; asterisk indicates VKC Investigator, Member)

Symposium 2—Investigating and integrating biomarkers and behavior in Rett syndrome,
Discussant Jeffrey Neul*
Non-word memory in Rett syndrome and Rett-related disorders, Sarika Peters*, Dorita Jones, Alexandra Key*

Symposium 5—A multilevel approach to measure the impact of theatre to enhance social competence in children with ASD; Chair Blythe Corbett*; Discussant Beth Malow*

  • Theatre and peers to enhance real-world social competence in children with autism, Blythe Corbett*, Sara Ioannou, Ian Muse, Rachael Muscatello, Catherine Coke
  • Biomarkers of treatment outcomes: ERPs as the measure of improvements in social cognition, Alexandra Key*, Dorita Jones, Blythe Corbett*
  • Effects of a theatre-based intervention on parasympathetic arousal during social interaction in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Rachael Muscatello, Blythe Corbett*

Symposium 13—Vocal development in children with ASD and children with Fragile X syndrome, Chair Jena McDaniel, Discussant Tiffany Woynaroski*

  • Differentiating vocalizations in autism spectrum disorder and fragile x syndrome at 9-12 months, Katie Belardi, Linda Watson, Kimbrough Oller, Betsy Crais, Grace Baranek
  • Investigating the dyadic nature of vocalizations in children with autism spectrum disorder: A comparison of two automated vocal reciprocity measures, Jena McDaniel, Joshua Wade, Annette Estes, Sally Rogers, Paul Yoder
  • Early intervention increases types of communication acts in toddlers at high familial risk for autism spectrum disorder, Sarah R. Edmunds, Catherine Dick, Paul Yoder*, Wendy Stone

Symposium 15—Insights from infants: Charting early brain and behavior across neurodevelopmental disorders,
Discussant Carissa Cascio*

Symposium 16­—Adolescents with autism in secondary school programs,
Discussant Julie Lounds Taylor

Symposium 22—Identifying and targeting individual, family, and environmental variables to improve the transition from school to post-school outcomes among individuals with IDD
Sex differences in employment and supports among adults on the autism spectrum, Julie Lounds Taylor*, Leann Smith DaWalt, Alison Marvin, J. Kiely Law, Paul Lipkin 


  • Narrative retell skills of school-age children with Down syndrome, Alison Hessling
  • Biohavioral measures of audiovisual speech processing are associated with language in children with and without ASD, Tiffany Woynaroski*
  • An exploratory analysis of the relationship between parent verb input and verb expressive vocabulary in children with ASD, Madison Crandall
  • Using aided augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) modeling during small group instruction for young children with Down syndrome, Emily Quinn
  • Relations between the metrics of multisensory integration, communication, and broader autism symptom severity in children with and without ASD, Jacob Feldman
  • Estimating the effect sizes of interventions used to increase the student participation during IEP meetings, Kelli Sanderson
  • Stability and validity of parent-child engagement in infants and toddlers at high risk of ASD, Ashley Augustine
  • Sensory responsivity predicts future communication and social skills in infants at risk for ASD, Alexandra Golden
  • Stability of indices of sensory responsiveness in infants at risk for ASD, Sarah Bowman

Madison Crandall received a David Zeaman Graduate Award.

The 52ndAnnual Gatlinburg Conference will be held April 10-12, 2019, in San Antonio, on the theme of “Translational Research on Down Syndrome.”

Jan Rosemergy is VKC director of Communication and Dissemination.

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