Award to help build research team in Autism-focused lab

March 12, 2018

Ryan Stevenson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Brain & Mind Institute

Photo and Story by Rob Rombouts

Ryan Stevenson is getting a big boost for his research, and a big boost to build a research team.

Stevenson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Brain & Mind Institute, has received an Early Researcher Award from the Government of Ontario.

The award, valued at $100,000 and an additional $50,000 in matching funds, gives funding to new researchers working at publicly funded Ontario research institutions to build a research team.

Through the award funding, Stevenson plans to hire two postdoctoral fellows and fund one doctoral student.

“The cool thing is to get more people here,” said Stevenson. “It’s good to expand the lab. When you are the E in the ERA, when you’re an early researcher, funding like this is not easy to come by, and it can help jumpstart the lab.”

Stevenson’s lab focuses on identifying and addressing sensory process differences in children with autism, as compared to children without.

“Individuals with Autism see and hear the world differently from their peers,” said Stevenson. “Data from our lab suggests perceiving the world in an altered fashion has implications for social communication and other common symptomatology associated with ASD.”

Stevenson hopes to create tools to offer remediation to sensory issues.

“Instead of trying to address issues when they start to emerge, if you can target the sensory aspects at an earlier age, you can nudge development to stop issues from arising to begin with,” said Stevenson.

Bringing in additional researchers will help Stevenson achieve these goals, and, Stevenson said, the new hires “can help spur new lines of research.”

“Post-docs are awesome,” said Stevenson. “They are trained already and can expand where the lab is going. They bring in a new skill-set, and broaden the lab’s tool bag.”

Stevenson will focus on recruiting someone with advanced MRI skills, and someone with experience in clinical longitudinal studies.

Stevenson foresees the tools having a significant impact for people across Ontario.

“These remediation tools would be highly portable, possibly even internet or tablet-based, which decreases many geographic barriers to treatment, particularly in the more isolated northern regions of Ontario,” said Stevenson “Immediate access to remediation is important in autism, the earlier intervention takes place, the greater the average benefit. Thus, in addition to significantly financial impact, this work has the potential to impact the quality of life for thousands of children in Ontario.”