A woman plays with two children who are laughing while sitting on her lap

Our Commitment

We envision a world where people thrive.

preschool teacher playing with children at a Juniper Gardens Children's Place affiliated classroom
Young woman participating in self determination project at the Beach Center on Disability
Student graduating in the Transition to Postsecondary Education Program

At the Life Span Institute, our research began in the 1960s as an effort to better understand the needs and development of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities who were isolated in institutional settings that rejected them as full human beings. That early focus on inclusion and equity has evolved and broadened over the past six decades to include research, service and outreach across the fields of education, behavioral science and neuroscience.

Today, through research, service, training and outreach, we:

  • develop and implement interventions that improve the long-term well-being of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • seek to identify the earliest behavioral, genetic, and biological markers for intellectual and developmental disabilities, so that we can place individuals into interventions when they are most effective
  • help teachers create inclusive, equitable classrooms that offer all students opportunities to achieve their goals.
  • engage with unusual voices and underserved audiences to help them build stronger communities
  • expand knowledge of effective prenatal and postnatal nutrition leading to healthier outcomes for babies and children
  • connect people who have disabilities with technology that helps them stay independently in their homes
  • develop ways to help people with intellectual disabilities lead self-determined lives, participate fully in the classroom and pursue meaningful employment
  • study the roots of addiction while we seek to reduce its stigma
  • foster future discoveries by training and mentoring the next generation of scientists
  • And much more.

We are driven to find solutions to complex challenges in human development, health and welfare, across the life span.

Four scientists discussing each other's research at poster presentations

Structure as Strength

Challenges in inclusion, disability, equity, language, addiction, development, community health, education and more require an interdisciplinary approach. To meet that need, we bring together the collective energy and ideas of more than 300 staff and investigators, 14 research centers and community partners.

Research Centers at a Glance

Research Impact

A boy working with an adult woman learns about weather by being guided to point at an image of a snowflake

Bridging the Autism Gap

Like many parents encountering an autism diagnosis in their child, Linzi Shriner learned there were several hurdles to overcome to get the kind of early interventions that children diagnosed with autism need. A KU program provided the confidence and understanding needed to communicate with her daughter, Baylee.
A middle school student looks at an assignment while holding a computer tablet.

Helping Teachers and Students

A new program pioneered at KU is proving effective to improve students' writing skills, save educators' time and give teachers new tools to assess learners’ progress.The five years of data from Project WRITE showed marked improvement in multiple areas of writing, especially for students with intellectual and learning disabilities.
Two people in a factory setting looking at a computer tablet; a level is also on the table.

Rural Kansas Career Development Assistance

Researchers are testing a career design model, delivered virtually, that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to help them set and work toward self-determined career goals based on their strengths, interests, and previous work experiences.