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Research Studies at the Autism Institute

The A.J. Drexel Autism Institute is the first research organization built around a public health science approach to understanding and addressing the challenges of autism spectrum disorders. We invite parents, people on the autism spectrum, physicians, childcare providers and others to participate in research studies to advance the base of knowledge we have on autism from early detection through transition to adulthood. Take a look at the studies below and contact us if you are interested in participating.

For individuals on the autism spectrum

Using Network Science to Investigate Social Networks and Employment Support for Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum

How do social networks and pre-employment experiences shape the transition from high school for young adult on the autism spectrum? When a young adult is preparing for employment, they can rely on a network of supporters, including parents/guardians, family members, school staff and community people to help them gain employment. In our research study, we want to learn how young adults build social networks and collaborate with the people in their networks, as they prepare for employment post-high school.

To participant in our study, the young adult must have the following:

  • Autism classification
  • Be in their final year of high school or extended high school OR be within 3-12 months post-high school or extended high
  • 18 years old or older

If you are eligible and decide to participate in our study, we will ask you to complete virtual/online tasks, such as a survey, study forms, and/or an interview with us. The research tasks can take place whenever best fits your schedule, including morning, business or evening hours during the week or weekend. Your experiences will help us gather information about how social networks and employment shape transition for young adults on the spectrum. Participants will be paid for each task they complete in the study.

Participants will be paid $20 for each task they complete in the study. If you're interested in participating or learning more, please fill out our Interest Form (link below)

For parents of transition-age youth on the autism spectrum

The Transition Odyssey of Youth with Autism on the Road to Adulthood: Parent Interview

This new study will pilot test an interview for parents and guardians of young adults with autism about their experiences during the transition years. This study involves completing background information forms and talking to the research team by phone or through videoconference. We will ask about topics like the transition out of high school, services the youth received, and barriers to transition planning. You can participate in this study if you are the parent or legal guardian of a young adult with autism spectrum disorder. You must have a young adult who: 1) has been out of high school for between 2 and 6 years, 2) received special education services at some point during high school, and 3) needed help with transition in one or more domain (employment, health care, mental health care, postsecondary education). We are currently interested in talking to parents who speak English. Participants who complete the study will receive a $25 gift card of your choice (Target, Walmart, or Amazon) upon completion of background forms, and another $25 card upon completion of an interview if selected.

For parents with a child on the autism spectrum

Improving Child-Treatment Fit in Autism Early Intervention Study

The goal of this study is to understand how to adapt teaching techniques to each child's way of learning. The study is open to parents of children ages 24-36 months who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Researchers will provide children with 10, 1-hour teaching sessions per week for three months to address their learning needs at no cost.

Examining Preverbal Social Learning Processes in Minimally Verbal Children with Autism

Minimally verbal children with autism are often considered to be “untestable”, resulting in an underestimation of their potential, exclusion from intervention trials, and a poor foundation for developing targeted interventions. In order to optimize and customize interventions so that they are beneficial to minimally verbal children with autism, a fine-grained characterization of their learning profile is needed, particularly in the social-cognitive and social-motivational abilities that are foundational to language. This study addresses this gap by examining strengths and needs of minimally verbal children with ASD using a novel experimental battery, called Measurement of Preverbal Social Learning (MOPSL). The MOPSL is designed to provide a fine-grained measurement of social motivational and social cognitive prerequisites for language using cutting-edge eye-tracking and pupillometry techniques. These allow to measure attentional and emotional responses to stimuli using a non-invasive infra-red technology to generate indices of attention engagement and emotional arousal. Additionally, understanding strengths and needs in abilities foundational to verbal development is a critical step to enable delivery of targeted interventions for the neglected population of minimally verbal children with autism, thus promoting the overall rate of optimal intervention outcomes, and improving wellbeing across the autism spectrum of severity.

Assessment of Brain Function during Social Interaction among Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

A new study at Drexel University aims to explore brain function of young children (ages 18 to 42 months) during social interactions. Your child will wear neuroimaging sensors on a headband, which will be used to capture brain activity while playing and watching some brief videos. The study is enrolling typically developing children as well as children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Families will receive $100 for participation in the study that includes zoom session and site visit.

Communication in Autism Parent Coaching Program

Approximately 25% of children with ASD do not use language to communicate, and children with ASD who struggle to communicate are more at risk to show challenging behaviors. The Communication in Autism Parent Coaching Program developed at the AJ Drexel Autism Institute uses evidence-based strategies to teach communication and language to children with ASD. Participation in this study includes a no-cost evaluation of your child’s communication and other functional skills, as well as the opportunity to receive the Communication in Autism Parent Coaching Program at no cost. If you have a child with ASD who has minimal or no verbal communication between 24 and 72 months, you might be eligible to participate in the study. Sessions may be completed in-person, by telehealth or a combination. Participants will be compensated for their time.

Emotional expressivity in young children with and without autism

Compared to peers, children on the autism spectrum have difficulty understanding, expressing, and regulating emotions, all of which impact their social functioning.  A new study at Drexel University aims to identify emotional responses in children with autism and to guide future intervention studies. This study is open to children ages 2-4 both with and without autism. Children will complete a series of assessments. We will observe children’s behavior and track their eye gaze. An electroencephalogram (EEG) cap will be worn by the children to measure their brain activity during the tasks. Benefits include an evaluation of your child’s cognitive and social skills at no cost to you and compensation of $60 for your time.

Development of the M-CHAT-S (School Age Screener for Autism Risk)

We are developing and testing a screening questionnaire for ASD risk for young school age children (age 4 to 8 years) and are looking for participants to assist with its development. This study is for parents of children ages 4-8 (including children on the spectrum, children with other delays or learning difficulties, and children with typical development) and educators (teachers, special education teachers, intervention providers) with at least 5 years of experience working with students on the autism spectrum. Participants will either complete an interview or focus group or pilot test the questionnaire. Participants in the interview will give feedback on potential screener items over phone or Zoom. For pilot testing, participants will be asked to complete the newly developed questionnaire and two to three other questionnaires online - Some may be asked to complete again, 1-2 weeks later. Participation will take no more than 60-90 minutes and you will be compensated for your time.