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AJ Drexel Autism Institute Receives Two Grants from Drexel's Rapid Response Research & Development Fund

  • Jaime Fountaine
Posted on August 25, 2020

This year, in honor of Juneteenth, and Drexel’s commitment to the necessary examination and eradication of racial inequalities, Drexel's Rapid Response Research & Development Fund focused on racial equity projects. The Fund, designated for urgent action, short-term projects, received 33 strong submissions this year. 22 of those projects received funding. The Autism Institute is involved in two of these projects.

Educational Disparities Experienced by Individuals with ASD is being spearheaded by Kaitlin Koffer Miller, MPH of the Policy and Analytics Center. The 2018 PA Autism Needs Assessment surveyed autistic individuals and their family members about their experiences, including those with Medicaid and other public services, and education. People completing the survey were able to opt-in to future research. 

Using quantitative data, pulled from the PANA, as well as qualitative data drawn from conducting interviews with PANA respondents, Koffer Miller will explore the educational experience of family members of Black autistic children as compared to family members of white autistic children about their experiences with the education system. There are a lot of well-documented disparities in service planning and receipt. She believes the use of both methods of data collection will allow for some additional layers of data for a very complicated issue. 

Does Racial Disparity Contribute to Delayed Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children with Early Childhood Brain Injury? is a collaboration between Dr. Ramesh Raghupathi, a Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy in Drexel’s College of Medicine, and two members of our own Early Detection and Intervention Research Program, Drs. Giacomo Vivanti and Andrea Wieckowski. 

Dr. Raghupathi studies the short- and long-term effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), including pediatric brain trauma. Recently, one of his masters students in the neuroscience program studying measured social behavior found, using animal models, that a preference for the familiar over the novel in animals suffering from a TBI was similar to what has been shown in clinical and animal studies about autism behavior. He mentioned this to Dr. Diana Robins, who offered a student the opportunity to examine one of her databases for similarities. That study is currently under way. 

Using the grant, Dr. Raghupathi and his team will examine the Early Detection and Intervention program’s databases for evidence of potential racial disparity in the overlap between being treated for a TBI and a diagnosis of autism, which will hopefully lead to the development of appropriate clinical models to further examine the neurobiological mechanisms at the intersection of autism and brain injury.