Autism Science Foundation Funds New Round of COVID-19 Grants
Latest grants will measure the validity of new online autism assessments and examine the mental health consequences of the pandemic on individuals with autism spectrum disorder
The Autism Science Foundation (ASF), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting and funding innovative autism research, today announced its third round of COVID-19 Research Grant recipients. The grantees are Dr. Hannah Rea of the University of Washington, Shalini Sivathasan of Emory University and Dr. Marika Coffman of Duke University.
The latest grants will support a study investigating the validity of new virtual autism assessments and will also enable a team of scientists to study the mental health consequences of the pandemic on individuals with autism.
The first round of COVID-19 grants were announced in June, with funding to enable continued collection of data from a cohort of children who were participants in a long-term longitudinal study whose participation was in jeopardy because of COVID-19 restrictions. Another June grant funded a study to understand the unique needs of culturally diverse families in low-resource households during the pandemic. The second round of grants, in September, provided funds to study how best to employ telehealth solutions for children with ASD, and to help adapt a mathematical instructional program for special education teachers to use with autistic children.
“2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, but the autism community has been hit especially hard,” said Alison Singer, Co-Founder and President of ASF. “We are proud that this latest round of COVID-19 grants will help fund research projects that focus on two critically important issues that have arisen this year: the mental health impact of the pandemic on people with autism, and the efficacy of virtual autism assessments. We expect the findings from these projects will serve a valuable role in helping people with autism more effectively get the support they need during the pandemic.”
ASF’s grant will enable Sivathasan and Dr. Rea to collaborate and combine their resources to study the impact of the sudden shift from in-person autism assessments to telehealth-delivered diagnoses. Together, they will examine these new assessment practices in both children and adults with ASD to determine the validity of these measures, as well as determine which changes should be continued and which need to be further improved. The ultimate goal of the research is to help clinicians conduct better ASD assessments virtually.
Dr. Coffman’s grant will be used to study the mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on children with autism. Mentored by Dr. Geraldine Dawson, and in conjunction with colleagues Dr. Kimberly Carpenter and Dr. Naomi Davis, this funding will allow for the expansion of an existing project at Duke University examining mental health issues in families with an ASD. It will track families with an ASD, as well as individuals with co-occurring psychiatric issues, to determine the effects of the pandemic on autism-related behaviors. The findings will help inform future efforts to understand who is most susceptible to mental health issues and what contributes to resilience.