Current Grantees

Undergraduate Summer Research Grants:

Beza Ayalew|University of California, Los Angeles
Mentor:  Brian Boyd, PhD & Connie Kasari, PhD
Autism Spectrum Disorder Disparities in the California School System
There is a longstanding disparity in diagnosis of ASD in African American children compared to white or Asian children.  African American children are less likely to be diagnosed in preschool, and this delay decreases the total number of years in which the child may receive services.  This fellowship will examine diagnosis of ASD, Intellectual Disability and Language Disorder in African American students compared to white students in a school database where the majority of students are ethnic minorities.  This will provide information about diagnostic disparity in school settings and what diagnoses, if any, are being provided African American children if ASD rates are lower than in white families.

Jadon Mehringer|Indiana University
Mentor: Jill Fodstad, PhD
Developing a Protocol for ASD Intervention in Acute General Psychiatry In-Patient Units
People with ASD are more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric issues compared to those without a diagnosis.  Their complex needs make providing care more difficult and many psychiatric unit staff do not have the skills or knowledge to help those with ASD.   While some evidence-based practices do exist and have been published, they are rarely implemented in acute psychiatric settings.  This project will develop an ASD-specific training and intervention package for use in acute care settings, including compiling the evidence and incorporating stakeholder perceptions and opinions into what needs to be stressed.  Guidelines will then be developed for clinicians in acute care settings, improving care and services for autistic individuals and their families.

Daniel Nunez Huaracha|Boston Children’s Hospital
Mentor: Charles Nelson, PhD
Early Links Between Motor Development and Language in ASD
Motor abilities like sitting and grasping are the first behaviors to emerge in babies, and the first to show differences in those who receive a later ASD diagnosis.  These motor skills have been linked to later social communication abilities in typically developing children, but not always to those with a later ASD diagnosis.  The data indicate that motor deficits should be targets of interventions in infants and that these targeted interventions will have beneficial effects on later social communication skills, improving later language and non-verbal communication.  This research project will utilize an EEG-based biomarker to investigate biological signals of these early motor behaviors in infants who are later diagnosed with ASD vs. those who are not. Combination of both behavioral signals and biomarkers for early behavioral impairments can better inform clinicians about which interventions will be best for which infants.

Jennifer Yu|California Institute of Technology
Mentor: Ralph Adolphs, PhD
Smartphone-based Eye-tracking for Assessing Autism Spectrum Disorder
There are significant disparities in early identification of ASD. More biologically–based methods, like eye-tracking, are needed to ensure a reduction in bias in early diagnosis and intervention.  In this project, the undergraduate researcher will work with Google to collect eye tracking data from people with ASD over a Smartphone app in order to develop a mechanism to obtain this data over the internet.  The fellowship will support the targeted collection of families from African American or Latinx communities, so that they are meaningfully included in the research findings