Leann Smith DaWalt

Leann E Smith, PhD

PhD, University of Notre Dame
Senior Scientist, Waisman Center

Contact Information:

Waisman Center
1500 Highland Ave
Room 549
Madison, WI 53705
608.890.1390
lsmith@waisman.wisc.edu
Lab Website: Lifespan Family Research - Working Together

Research Statement

Drawing from my training in lifespan developmental psychology, in my research I employ multilevel modeling and other longitudinal techniques to answer questions of behavioral continuity and change for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families across the life course, with a specific emphasis on adolescents and adults with IDD and the contextual factors associated with positive outcomes. My work also centers on translating the results of longitudinal research into timely and effective treatments and services for the populations that I study.

My research focuses on understanding the impact of having a child with a developmental disability on the family as well as the role of the family and community in supporting healthy development for individuals with disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and fragile X syndrome (FXS). We know that parenting a child with a developmental disability can present many unique challenges for families. In one of our past studies, we have found that mothers of adolescents and adults with ASD were three times more likely to experience a stressful event on a given day than mothers of similarly-aged children without disabilities. Given the high level of stress experienced by many parents, I am interested in the interplay of stress, coping, and social support for parents of children with developmental disabilities and the subsequent impact that stress can have on parental health and well-being.

Developmental disabilities are lifelong conditions and families of children with developmental disabilities continue to be active contributors to their children's lives not only during the childhood years, but also during adolescence and adulthood. We have found that the family factors such as warmth and positivity can impact changes in behavioral profiles over time for adolescents and adults with disabilities (i.e., ASD, FXS), highlighting the family environment as an important, positive context for development across the life course. Currently I am an investigator on two separate longitudinal studies of premutation carrier mothers and their children with FXS (one study focuses on families whose children are transitioning from childhood into adolescence and one study focuses on families whose children are adolescents and adults); these studies will help us understand biological and contextual influences on outcomes for children with FXS and their mothers.

In addition to longitudinal research, my work focuses on translating research findings into targeted interventions for youth and young adults with ASD. One recently completed randomized waitlist control study found that a multi-family group psychoeducation intervention, Transitioning Together, was beneficial for adolescents with ASD and their parents in terms of increases in social engagement for teens and improvements in depressive symptoms and problem-solving for parents. This program has now been implemented in clinical practice in six US states and one Canadian province, with a cultural adaptation of the model available for Spanish-speaking families. I am currently a PI on an NIMH-funded project to test a similar multi-family group psychoeducation intervention for young adults with ASD entitled Working Together. Along with Waisman Center Investigators Drs. Marsha Mailick, Jan Greenberg, and Janet Lainhart, I aim to understand how to improve employment and postsecondary educational outcomes for young adults with ASD. I also am a co-principal investigator for a national center on secondary education for students with ASD (CSESA) funded by the Institute of Education Sciences which aims to test a comprehensive treatment model for high school students with ASD. This study includes over 500 students from 60 high schools across the country (including 20 high schools in Wisconsin) and is a collaboration with colleagues at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and San Diego State University.

Representative Publications

Chan W, Smith LE, Greenberg JS, Hong J, Mailick MR. (2017) Executive Functioning Mediates the Effect of Behavioral Problems on Depression in Mothers of Children With Developmental Disabilities. American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. 122(1):11-24. doi: 10.1352/1944-7558-122.1.11.

Mailick M, Hong J, Greenberg J, Dawalt LS, Baker MW, Rathouz PJ. (2017) FMR1 Genotype Interacts with Parenting Stress to Shape Health and Functional Abilities in Older Age. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics. 174(4):399-412. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.b.32529. PMCID:PMC5435525.

Chan W, Smith LE, Hong J, Greenberg JS, Lounds Taylor J, Mailick MR. (2017) Factors Associated with Sustained Community Employment Among Adults with Autism and Co-occurring Intellectual Disability.. Autism. In Press.

Chan W, Smith LE, Hong J, Greenberg JS, Mailick MR. (2017) Validating the social responsiveness scale for adults with autism. Autism Research. PMID: 28639377, In Press.

Bishop-Fitzpatrick L, Smith DaWalt L, Greenberg JS, Mailick MR. (2017) Participation in recreational activities buffers the impact of perceived stress on quality of life in adults with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Research. In Press.

DaWalt LS, Usher L, Greenberg JS, Mailick MR. (2017) Friendships and Social Participation as Markers of Quality of Life of Adolescents and Adults with fragile X syndrome and Autism. Autism. In Press.

Woodman AC, Smith LE, Greenberg JS, Mailick MR. (2016) Contextual Factors Predict Patterns of Change in Functioning over 10 Years Among Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 46(1):176-89. doi: 10.1007/s10803-015-2561-z.

Bishop-Fitzpatrick L, Hong J, Smith LE, Makuch RA, Greenberg JS, Mailick MR. (2016) Characterizing Objective Quality of Life and Normative Outcomes in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Exploratory Latent Class Analysis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 46(8):2707-19. doi: 10.1007/s10803-016-2816-3.

Nicholas DB, Hodgetts S, Zwaigenbaum L, Smith LE, Shattuck P, Parr JR, Conlon O, Germani T, Mitchell W, Sacrey L, Stothers ME. (2016) Research needs and priorities for transition and employment in autism: Considerations reflected in a "Special Interest Group" at the International Meeting for Autism Research. Autsim Research. 10(1):15-24. doi: 10.1002/aur.1683.

Hong J, Bishop-Fitzpatrick L, Smith LE, Greenberg JS, Mailick MR. (2016) Factors Associated with Subjective Quality of Life of Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Self-Report Versus Maternal Reports. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 46(4):1368-78. doi: 10.1007/s10803-015-2678-0.

Smith LE, Hong J, Greenberg JS, Mailick MR. (2016) Change in the Behavioral Phenotype of Adolescents and Adults with FXS: Role of the Family Environment. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 46(5):1824-33. doi: 10.1007/s10803-016-2714-8.

Odom SL, Thompson JL, Hedges S, Boyd BA, Dykstra JR, Duda MA, Szidon KL, Smith LE, Bord A. (2015) Technology-Aided Interventions and Instruction for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 45(12):3805-19. doi: 10.1007/s10803-014-2320-6.

Mailick MR, Hong J, Greenberg J, Smith L, Sherman S. (2014) Curvilinear association of CGG repeats and age at menopause in women with FMR1 premutation expansions. American Journal of Medical Genetics. Part B, Neuropsychiatric Genetics. 165B(8):705-11. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.b.32277.

Woodman AC, Smith LE, Greenberg JS, Mailick MR. (2014) Change in Autism Symptoms and Maladaptive Behaviors in Adolescence and Adulthood: The Role of Positive Family Processes. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. In Press.

Mailick MR, Hong J, Rathouz P, Baker MW, Greenberg JS, Smith L, Maenner M. (2014) Low-normal FMR1 CGG repeat length: phenotypic associations. Frontiers in Genetics. 5:309.

Maenner MJ, Smith LE, Hong J, Makuch R, Greenberg JS, Mailick MR. (2013) Evaluation of an activities of daily living scale for adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities. Disability and Health Journal. 6(1):8-17.

Smith LE, Barker ET, Seltzer MM, Abbeduto L, Greenberg JS. (2012) Behavioral Phenotype of Fragile X Syndrome in Adolescence and Adulthood. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. 117, No. 1, 1—17 .

Smith LE, Greenberg JS, Mailick MR. (2012) Adults with autism: outcomes, family effects, and the multi-family group psychoeducation model. Current Psychiatry Reports. 14(6):732-8.

Baker JK, Smith LE, Greenberg JS, Seltzer MM, Taylor JL. (2011) Change in maternal criticism and behavior problems in adolescents and adults with autism across a 7-year period. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. May;120(2):465-75.

Smith LE, Seltzer MM, Greenberg JS. (2011) Daily Health Symptoms of Mothers of Adolescents and Adults with Fragile X Syndrome and Mothers of Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of autism and developmental disorders. 2011 Dec 14. [Epub ahead of print].

Smith LE, Greenberg JS, Seltzer MM. (2011) Social Support and Well-being at Mid-Life Among Mothers of Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2011 Dec 13. [Epub ahead of print].

Seltzer MM, Greenberg JS, Hong J, Smith LE, Almeida DM, Coe C, Stawski RS. (2010) Maternal cortisol levels and behavior problems in adolescents and adults with ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Apr;40(4):457-69.