Faculty and Staff
Sarah Edmunds, Ph.D.
|Title:||Assistant Professor, Special Education
College of Education
|Office:||Barnwell College, Rm 514|
Sarah Edmunds, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of South Carolina. She also has a joint appointment in the special education program within the Department of Educational Studies. At USC, Edmunds is a member of the USCAND autism excellence initiative. She is also a member of the RISE research network’s implementation science team.
Edmunds received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Washington, advised by Wendy Stone, Ph.D. She completed her predoctoral internship at Duke University Medical Center and her postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Edmunds received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Cornell University. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, theatre, and cooking for her friends.
Each autistic person has a unique set of strengths and challenges. I study neurodiversity-informed interventions that address the functional impairments that are associated with ASD (e.g., in social communication, social skills, flexibility, emotion regulation, and anxiety). My goal is to conduct research that helps autistic children, teens, and their families have better quality of life (i.e., resilient mental health, independence and employment in adulthood).
Broadly, my research investigates how we can best implement evidence-based interventions for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) within early intervention, school, and mental healthcare systems, in ways that are tailored to each community and support equitable access for all autistic* children and teens.
Community-based implementation of interventions:
My research uses a community-based participatory research (CBPR) framework. That means that I work to involve autistic individuals, families, providers, and other stakeholders at every stage of my research: from deciding what to study, to collecting data, to sharing our findings with others. Please email me if you have ideas for research in this area and are interested in partnering in this work!
I am interested in investigating equitable methods for training clinicians and parents in intervention strategies they can use to support children’s social communication and emotional development. My hope is that this work will reduce the large racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in access to interventions for ASD. My research explores the balance between fidelity (i.e., staying “true” to an intervention as it was designed) and fit (i.e., adapting aspects of the intervention to better fit the child, family, and organization that provides it). As part of this research, I have provided training in evidence-based, ASD-specialized intervention strategies for federally-funded birth-to-three organizations. I also enjoy adapting cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)-based interventions to better fit the learning styles and needs of autistic children and teens.
“How” and “for whom” interventions work:
I am also interested in 1) identifying the “active ingredients” by which early interventions for ASD improve social communication and emotion regulation, and 2) exploring individual differences in the efficacy of these interventions.
For example, my research helps identify the most effective components of Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions (NDBIs), a group of early interventions for ASD. Many NDBIs are parent-implemented. I am interested in whether prioritizing “core” elements reduces family stress, increases provider and family buy-in, eases training and community dissemination, and improves child outcomes.
Autistic children and teens can have a wide variety of strengths and challenges. I am interested in whether certain interventions may be more effective for children and teens who, for example, have higher levels of irritability or more disruptive behavior, less flexibility or executive control, lower cognitive ability, or co-occurring ADHD or anxiety. Ultimately, this research may help tailor interventions and aid clinicians’ decision making about which interventions might be most helpful for each child.
*I use identity-first language (e.g., “autistic person”) to affirm the value and worth of every individual as an autistic person. Some assert that person-first language (e.g., “person with autism”) implies that autism is inherently negative in that it needs to be “separated” from the person. That being said, I respect that many stakeholders may prefer person-first language, and I strive to use the terms that each person prefers. For more information about this choice, see this commentary by Giacomo Vivanti, Ph.D.. summarizing the history around these terms, this position statement by the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), and this commentary by Kristen Bottema-Beutel, Ph.D. and colleagues.
Edmunds, S. R., Colman, C., Vidal, P., & Faja, S. (2021). Brief report: Links between language ability and working memory impairments in toddlers and preschoolers with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-021-05049-x
Yoder, P.., Stone, W.L., & Edmunds, S. R. (2020). Parent utilization of ImPACT intervention strategies is a mediator of proximal then distal social communication outcomes in younger siblings of children with ASD. Autism, 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361320946883
Yoder, P.., Stone, W.L., & Edmunds, S. R. (2020). For which infant siblings of children with ASD does parent-mediated intervention work? Autism, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361320943373
Edmunds, S. R., Kover, S.T., & Stone, W.L. (2019). The relation between parent verbal responsiveness and child communication ability in children with or at risk for autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Autism Research 12(5), 715-731. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.2100
Edmunds, S. R., Ibañez, L., Warren, Z., Messinger, D. & Stone, W.L. (2017). Longitudinal prediction of language emergence in infants at high and low risk for ASD. Development and Psychopathology, 29(1), 319-329. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579416000146
Edmunds, S. R., Rozga, A., Li, Y., Ibañez, L., Karp, E., Rehg, J., & Stone, W.L. (2017). Using a point-of-view camera to measure eye gaze in young children with autism spectrum disorder during naturalistic social interactions: A pilot study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47, 898-904. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-016-3002-3