2023 Undergraduate Summer Fellowship Awards

NEW YORK — April 4, 2023 — The Autism Science Foundation (ASF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting families facing autism and to funding innovative autism research, today announced the recipients of its annual undergraduate summer research fellowships. Grants have been awarded to Vidya Gadikota of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kaleb Phelps of the University of South Carolina, and Olivia Wong of the Child Mind Institute, New York.

This year’s diverse group of grantees will investigate critical research topics, including understanding and narrowing the diagnosis and service gap, improving healthcare access for adults with profound autism, and understanding how restrictive and repetitive behaviors early in life influence long term outcomes.

“We were incredibly impressed by the creativity and pragmatism these proposals showed and expect that this work will improve the lives of many families” said ASF Chief Science Officer, Dr Alycia Halladay. “This is a diverse and dynamic group of young investigators who are eager to make a real difference in the autism community.”

“Our own research shows that the undergraduates we fund tend to stay in science, which is the goal of this program”, added Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation. “This funding program is only possible because of the generosity of our donors and the vision of our board of directors, which is committed to supporting early career investigators.”  

This is the tenth consecutive year ASF has offered grants to highly promising  undergraduates. In 2018, Inside Philanthropy praised ASF’s focus on young scientists, writing that funding undergraduates “is not something we see very often. In fact, we almost never see it. A key to achieving (medical) breakthroughs is first to win the battle to engage and retain young investigators. That means getting to promising researchers early.”

The Autism Science Foundation also funds post-undergraduate, pre-doctoral, and postdoctoral fellowships as part of its early career grant program.  

The following projects have been awarded funding:

Vidya Gadikota

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Mentor:  Laura Klinger, PhD

Improving Healthcare Access for Adults with Profound Autism
Adults with profound autism have unique healthcare needs that are often overlooked by providers. This student will expand an existing project to add a cohort of middle and older-aged autistic adults in a residential facility to measure overall health, co-occurring conditions, healthcare quality & satisfaction, and quality of life. Determining how co-morbid health conditions change as autistic adults age will enable services to be delivered that better meet people’s needs.

Kaleb Phelps

University of South Carolina
Mentor:  Jessica Bradshaw, PhD

Understanding the Diagnostic Experiences of Black Families
Large gaps exist in healthcare for Black autistic children, yet the lived experiences of these families are rarely investigated or considered when designing research studies. This student will collect data from families, including information about their diagnostic experience and the factors that matter most to them. The results will help researchers and healthcare providers develop culturally competent interventions for Black families across the world.

Olivia Wong

Child Mind Institute, New York
Mentor:  Adriana DiMartino, PhD

Determining the Role of Early Restrictive and Repetitive Behaviors in Downstream Autism Outcomes
Restricted and repetitive behaviors (RRBs) range from hand flapping to debilitating self-injury.  This student will investigate the biological basis for the broad range of RRBs by examining the development of the circuits in an area of the brain called the striatum. Pictures of the brain will be collected and analyzed at multiple time points in individuals from 1-4 years of age and matched with the presence and type of RRBs and later outcomes, like real-world function or adaptive behavior.  The results will help identify critical windows for brain development when intervention can be most beneficial.


About the Autism Science Foundation

The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) is a 501(c) (3) public charity. Its mission is to support autism research by providing funding to scientists and organizations conducting autism research. ASF also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism. To learn more about the Autism Science Foundation or to make a donation, visit www.autismsciencefoundation.org.