Autism Science Foundation Announces Two Additional COVID-19 Grants

Published October 21, 2021

The Autism Science Foundation (ASF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and funding innovative autism research, today announced its fifth round of COVID-19 Research Grant recipients. The latest grantees are Dr. Allison Shana Nahmias and Dr. Matthew Lerner of Stony Brook University and Dr. Shuting Zheng, University of California San Francisco. 

This new funding will help grantees examine ways to improve mental health services for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). One study will examine the efficacy of an online intervention to help autistic adolescents deal with pandemic stress, while another study will examine ways to improve mental health services for autistic adults.

ASF initially launched its COVID-19 grants in early 2020 to support scientists who were struggling to continue their research studies when institutions were shut down. The mechanism then evolved to fund research examining the unique effects of COVID-19 on people with autism, and to study ways to make permanent improvements to diagnoses and treatment based on service gaps the pandemic brought to light.

“The lingering mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to impact so many people with autism. Our goal with this latest round of funding is to provide support for people in the short-term, and to examine ways to make lasting improvements to mental health services that will aid people with autism long after the pandemic is over,” said Dr. Alycia Halladay, Chief Science Officer of ASF.

The following projects have received funding:

Allison Shana Nahmias, Ph.D. and Matthew Lerner, Ph.D.

Stony Brook University

Title: Evaluating an Online Intervention to Help Autistic Adolescents Deal with Pandemic Stress 

Most mental health interventions require multiple clinician visits, can be costly, and are not feasible for many families from diverse socioeconomic communities.  This project will study the effects of a single-session intervention, successfully utilized with neurotypical adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic, to see if it is also successful in supporting autistic adolescents. Stressful events have increased during the pandemic, resulting in additional mental health challenges throughout the ASD community.  

Shuting Zheng, Ph.D.

University of California San Francisco

Improving Mental Health Service Delivery for Individuals with Autism

Only about half of autistic adults who reported experiencing symptoms of depression during the pandemic received treatment for their depression due to problems accessing services. This project will expand a longitudinal study of autistic adults reporting their own experiences with mental health care. The goal is to better understand the different factors that support or deter mental health support, learn how autistic adults receive and prefer to receive support, and then improve the services they receive.

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