Skip to main content Skip to local navigation

Welcome to the DDMH Lab


Our research focuses on the prevention and support of mental health problems in people with developmental disabilities across the lifespan. We aim to understand and address mental health in people with developmental disabilities in many ways. We conduct studies that focus on the individual with developmental disability, their families, and the larger health and social service systems.

People with autism and intellectual disability and their families thrive, experiencing wellness and healthy development across the life course. The multiple contexts in which people grow are able to support them to develop competence, confidence, and connectedness, so that they can contribute in positive ways to themselves, their families and society.

  • To address mental health problems.
  • To add to academia and maintain excellence in scholarship.
  • To conduct applied research that improves the lives of people with autism and intellectual disability and their families, focused on mental health and wellness as long-term outcomes.
  • To engage with autistic, autism and intellectual disability communities to enable research that is meaningful and which the end result is improved psychological and social outcomes. This includes working with multiple ecologies: the home, school, workplace, community, and hospital.
  • To empower the autistic, autism and intellectual disability community, clinical and research domains to be partners in research.
  • To train the next generation of professionals who work in community, clinical and research domains about mental health and wellness with the lens of autism and intellectual disability.
  • To conduct innovative knowledge mobilization that results in improved awareness, knowledge, and skill, bringing together knowledge users with knowledge generators.
  • To inform decision makers to develop evidence-informed policies related to autism and intellectual disability, which results in improved mental health and wellness.

Intervention research

Through resilience and recovery models, we are currently conducting research on interventions that promote mental health in people with developmental disabilities, and on the factors that increase the likelihood of mental health problems. Topics include:

  • The protective role that Special Olympics can play for people with developmental disabilities
  • Cognitive behavioural interventions for autistic children, adolescents, and adults
  • Social skills groups for autistic children

Health and social services research

We are interested in how people with developmental disabilities access equitable physical and mental health care, and are currently examining how the Gateway Provider Model can be used to conceptualize the process of health care access for autistic adolescents and adults (Stiffman, Pescosolido, & Cabassa, 2004). This research is a collaborative effort with the Dual Diagnosis Research Program (lead by Dr. Yona Lunsky) at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Other topics include:

  • The service needs of people with dual diagnosis (mental illness and developmental disabilities)
  • Emergency service use and the experience of crisis in people with developmental disabilities
  • Interdisciplinary allied health training in developmental disabilities
  • Clinical psychology graduate training in developmental disabilities
  • Working with government to improve developmental services

Family research

Families play a critical role in the health and well-being of family members with developmental disabilities. Understanding the experience of family caregivers of people with developmental disabilities across the lifespan can help us to develop effective supports to keep families healthy and address caregiver problems if they arise. We believe that healthy individuals contribute to healthy families, and healthy families contribute to healthy individuals. Topics include:

  • The experience of families of autistic people, people with intellectual disabilities or dual diagnosis
  • Family hardiness and coping with multiple stressors
  • The role of Special Olympics for parents of athletes with intellectual disabilities

Lab Director

Jonathan A. Weiss, Ph.D., C. Psych.

Dr. Weiss is a Professor in the Department of Psychology, and a Clinical Psychologist.

His research focuses on mental health in autistic people or people with intellectual disabilities across the lifespan. He conducts studies into how people with developmental disabilities access mental health care, and is interested in their service needs, use, and experiences. His work is also focused on understanding and supporting family wellness when at least one family member has a developmental disability. He is interested in program development and evaluation, and in particular on the impact of Special Olympics on the psychological well-being of participants, and of psychosocial interventions to promote resilience and improve the mental health of children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Read more about Dr. Weiss

Research Team

Our research team consists primarily of clinical-developmental psychology trainees (including Ph.D. and M.A. level students, and post-doctoral fellows) and research trainees (including research associates, coordinators, assistants, undergraduate thesis students, and volunteers). All lab members are supported by the York Research Chair in Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disability Mental Health. Learn more about our team.

Dr. Larissa Panetta, PhD, C. Psych.

Ph.D. Students

Andrea Maughan
Andrea Maughan
Supervised Clinical Practice
Karen Black
Karen Black
5th Year PhD Candidate
Annie Mills
4th Year PhD Candidate

Flora Roudbarani
3rd Year PhD Student
Teresa Sellitto
3rd Year PhD Student
Nisha Vashi
2nd Year PhD Student

Alaa Ibrahim
1st Year PhD Student

M.A. Students

2nd Year MA Student

Undergraduate Honours Students

  • Yusra Saeed

Read about the current students

Diana Pombo
Lab Coordinator
Jessica Cuciurean
Research Assistant
Cas Dempsey
Research Assistant


  • Yasmeen Aldouri

Read about the research staff

Language Note

There have been significant changes in recent years that have shaped how autism is discussed, defined, and described. There are some recommendations for identity-first language (e.g., “autistic people”) or for person-first language (e.g., “people with autism”). While traditionally person-first language was the recommended method for describing autism, as part of a broader movement to separate the person from symptoms or traits, many advocates and authors have highlighted the issues with this approach for the autistic community.[1] Many advocates from the autistic community note that identity-first language is the preferred way of talking about autism. Autism is seen as an inseparable part of who autistic people are. Throughout this website, the term “autistic child/person” is used when communicating about autism. We acknowledge that there continue to be disagreements, and our usage of identity-first language is meant to recognize, affirm, and validate the ownership of identity for autistic people. The term autistic is not viewed in a negative light.

Contact us

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, ON M3J1P3

416 736 2100 ext. 22987

Lab Director - Dr. Jonathan Weiss:

Lab Coordinator - Diana Pombo:

[1] Bottema-Beutel, K., Kapp, S. K., Lester, J. N., Sasson, N. J., & Hand, B. N. (2020). Avoiding Ableist Language: Suggestions for Autism Researchers. Autism in Adulthood.