S4L Team

Dr. T A McDonald is the principal investigator of the Spectrum for Life (S4L) Lab at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She is also a research investigator with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and a member affiliate of the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation. Dr. McDonald’s work is focused on optimizing outcomes of adults on the autism spectrum through a) adapting, creating, and validating measures and b) adapting and developing interventions for autistic populations.  Through individual and collaborative interdisciplinary research projects, she takes a life course approach to autism research and has examined factors across the lifespan, from toddler to adulthood, to increase understanding of development and outcomes for individuals on the autism spectrum. She is interested in better understanding individual differences in the perspectives, experiences, and outcomes of adults on the autism spectrum through interlinked, longitudinal online studies. She is continuing research on autism identity, neurodiversity, and self-determination and is also currently working in the implementation science space by adapting an evidenced-based intervention for insomnia (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Insomnia) to meet the learning and motivation needs of autistic individuals as well as the clinicians who serve them.

Zachary J. Williams designed the Sensation and Perception Study as part of his graduate school research. He is also a collaborator on the Autistic Employment Patterns and Profiles Study and on the Health and Wellbeing Study. Zack is an MD/PhD student whose research focuses on understanding and measuring the sensory experiences of adults on the autism spectrum. He is especially interested in the phenomenon of decreased sound tolerance, where some people find everyday sounds excessively or painfully loud (a condition called hyperacusis) and others have very strong emotional reactions to specific sounds such as chewing or throat clearing (a condition known as misophonia). Employing a range of self-report questionnaires, behavioral tasks, and clinical electrophysiology, he hopes to develop a better understanding of the prevalence, impact, and physiologic underpinnings of decreased sound tolerance in adults with and without autism.

Deb Wofford attended Nashville State Community College with a focus on Computer Operations. She began her career with Johnson & Higgins Insurance and later joined Nashville based Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation, where she worked as a Business Methods Analyst. Before joining the Spectrum for Life research team in 2018, she she discovered her passion for research while working in the Pediatric Clinical Research Office at Vanderbilt and with Dr. Beth Malow’s Sleep and Autism Research Team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Through the years, Deb has dedicated volunteer time with the Christian Women’s Job Corp. A new passion was discovered while volunteering with a mission team who served families in the Baton Rogue, LA area after a devastating loss due to flooding. Deb and her husband Doug have been married 28 years. They have five children and thirteen grandchildren. 

Salima Lalani is a Research Assistant at the Spectrum for Life (S4L) Lab at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She recently graduated from Vanderbilt University with majors in Psychology and MHS (Medicine, Health, and Society). Through her work as an RA, she found her passion for helping individuals on the spectrum reach their full potential. She has enjoyed creating CBT-I tools for Autistic patients. As a future doctor, she is inspired to improve how the Autism community access and receives medical care through enhanced patient-centered interventions. In addition to her work as an RA, she is also training to be a full-time Medical Scribe and is excited to make a difference in patients’ lives. For fun, she likes to cook new recipes, read Artemis Fowl books, and go on long walks. 

Delaney Caldwell is a Research Assistant at the Spectrum for Life lab, which is her first research experience at Vanderbilt University. She is an undergraduate Junior currently majoring in Child Studies and Psychology with minors in Spanish and Quantitative Methods. She plans on pursuing a graduate degree in Mental Health Counseling and eventually joining a private practice to provide therapeutic intervention to children. Delaney is especially interested in the topic of Bullying and Victimization of individuals on the Autism spectrum. When not doing lab work, Delaney is also a member of the Vanderbilt Undergraduate Honor Council and an officer in Alpha Delta Pi sorority. 

Claire is a Research Assistant at the Spectrum for Life (S4L) Lab at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a Senior at Vanderbilt University majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society. She is interested in studying the effects of bullying on adults on the spectrum and plans to continue research in the field after graduation. She enjoyed working as a bedside volunteer at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s hospital in the Emergency Department and hopes to get back soon. For fun, she paints and plays guitar.

Hannah is a research assistant in the Spectrum for Life Lab. She is a sophomore majoring in neuroscience and computer science and plans to attend graduate school for computational neuroscience after finishing her undergraduate degree. Her research interests include the life outcomes of individuals on the spectrum with a focus on those in marginalized communities. Both in and out of the lab, she is an autistic self-advocate and wants to improve the quality of life for autistic people through meaningful work and research.

Ivy Chen is a Research Assistant at the Spectrum for Life (S4L) Lab at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She graduated from Vanderbilt University in May 2019 where she received her B.A. in Medicine, Health, and Society. She began volunteering as a student coach for Spectrum Pathways as a Junior at Vanderbilt and continued her involvement working with the S4L team via independent study throughout college. She is a co-author on the Supporting Teens and Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum: Setting and Pursuing Self-Determined Goals Toolkit. Ivy has since received her M.S. in Medical Sciences from Boston University, through which she conducted neuroscience research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and wrote her Master’s thesis on sex differences in the effect of psychosocial stress. Outside of research, Ivy is a doting mother to her German Shepherd named Bunny and her lovebird named Bellini.

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