Funding autism research is at the core of our mission.
We prioritize funding clever early-career investigators with cutting-edge ideas who need seed money to get their research off the ground. ASF pairs these researchers with established scientists who provide mentorship and training. The government and other funders have decreased funding for training grants, but we are committed to helping early-career scientists gather the initial data they need to attract major funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), all while encouraging the best and brightest researchers to dedicate their careers to autism.
Profound Autism Pilot Grants
Margaret Reynolds, M.D., MSc | Washington University in St. Louis
Improving Social Behavior and Adaptive Functioning in Children with Profound Autism Through Vision Correction
Vision problems, including far- and near-sightedness, affect up to 44% of children with autism. These deficits may lead to sensory deprivation and impair skills related to autism, including attention and communication. Refractive errors are usually corrected by the use of eyeglasses or contact lenses, but most individuals with profound autism cannot tolerate wearing them and may benefit from vision-correcting, refractive surgery. In this study, pediatric ophthalmologist Dr. Margaret Reynolds will examine social reciprocity, social interaction, and adaptive behavior in children with profound autism who have had this vision-correcting surgery. The methods used to track these outcomes do not rely on the child’s speech or language ability, so those who are non- or minimally-verbal can participate. While at present only a few doctors perform this surgery in children, this relatively simple medical procedure could lead to improved quality of life and function.
Heather Nuske, Ph.D. & David Mandell, Sc.D. | University of Pennsylvania
Reducing Severe Behaviors in School Settings for Children with Profound Autism Using Wearable Devices
Studies using wearable devices suggest that severe behaviors like aggression and self-injury are often preceded by physiological signs that may reflect emotional dysregulation and stress, such as increased heart rate and sudden movements. In order to best manage these situations and support children with profound autism in school settings, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania developed the KeepCalm app. This app works with a wearable device and allows educators to monitor their students in real-time. The app’s interactive learning feature helps train teachers to identify early signs of distress and use appropriate de-escalation strategies before injurious behavior occurs. This information can also be shared with parents, so that they can use the same strategies at home. This project will assess the KeepCalm system in educational teams and modify the application and training to specifically accommodate students with profound autism.
Adam Naples, Ph.D. | Yale University
Adapting Biomarker Assays for Profound Autism
Individuals with profound autism have been historically underrepresented in research. Though profoundly autistic individuals make up roughly 27 percent of the ASD population, they represent only a small portion of research participants. Consequently, research findings in the field underrepresent profoundly autistic individuals. One of the most significant reasons for this underrepresentation is the need for research participants to follow spoken or written instructions and maintain engagement with a task. In this project researchers will test a novel interactive experimental delivery system that helps people participate in research without needing to understand complex instructions. The experiment uses computer vision systems that reward participants for sitting still and attending, rather than asking a participant to sit quietly and attend to a computer screen without incentive. Using this method, researchers will study two promising biomarkers, the balance of neural activity in the brain using electroencephalography (EEG) (which is associated with sensory sensitivity), and arousal using pupil diameter (which is associated with symptoms like disordered sleep and aggression). The goal is to develop a novel system for including profoundly autistic individuals in research.
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